Armstrong Pame, a young IAS officer, has been nominated for the CNN IBN Indian of the Year 2012 award under the public service category. He is stationed in Tamenglong, Manipur, as the sub-divisional Magistrate.
A motorable road has been a dream of the people in the region. Though there was the government’s nod for a road and a major part of the funding was received in the 1980s, the project never took off. A 100 km stretch has been identified, and the work for a road has been progressing without any government help but with the support of the local community. He spoke to the City Express, through a brief email interview.
Could you tell me something about the road. How much of the work is over ?
The work on the Tamenglong-Nagaland road began in August. From Tamenglong headquarters to the Barak river, the distance is about 16 kms. The road is motorable presently and we had to clear the landslide portions. From Barak river to Makhru river, covering about 25 kms, we also had to clear the landslide portions and cut through the jungle along the way. From Makhru river to Tousem sub-division, about 20 kms, we had to build the road which was washed away because of torrential rains. The challenge is stretch of 40 kms or more for which we have to make an entirely new road. So far, 70 per cent of the work is over. The most difficult stretches are over. Very soon, we will connect a village called Katangnam which has never had a road for centuries.
Why did the road fail to take off?
The proposal to build the road existed even before the 1980s. There are so many old people here who have heard about the proposal since their childhood. A major part of the funding was received in the 1980s but nothing happened.
What prompted you to go ahead?
I have grown up in this area for a good part of my life so far. I know how painful it is to walk 40 to 50 kms on foot just to get your basic requirements be it salt, sugar or education. So I always had this dream that one day, if I am given an opportunity I would like to get the road done. The oranges produced in the region never reach the market and is often fed to the pigs and dogs. Also, without a proper road, people suffer with the outbreak of diseases like malaria.
What was the state government’s response to your work?
As of now, there is no official communication from the government. A few seniors praised me for my courage in taking up the project. But soon the government has to come in a big way sooner or later to make a better road. The road that we are doing is a first cutting, through the jungles. We do not have the budget to make a big road and we are unable to go for black topping.
How did you get the funding?
The credit goes entirely to the villagers themselves who want to come out of despair and frustration. When I made the budget it was beyond our abilities, but we took it up as a challenge. I , along with my family , contributed the initial funding. We were able to get almost all the machines needed for the work free of cost. Many volunteers worked free. Almost everyone in the village started contributing rice, firewood, vegetables, and money. I was touched when a 90 year old man donated his old-age pension for five months, at `200 per month. Then we started an awareness campaign using social networking sites. Funds began to pour in slowly. But after the media attention, funds have been pouring in from across the globe.
How did you ensure the village's participation ?
According to tradition, when a family is in need, they give a portion of salt to each of the families in the village. Then everyone pitches in to help the family. So, we did the same to ensure that all participate. We gave a kilogram of salt to each of the families in my sub-division and the town area. We have so far distributed about 5,500 kgs of salt and the result has been amazing. We are expecting not less than Rs 4 to 5 lakh from this project itself. A family does not mind giving Rs 100 for a kg of salt as long as the cause is noble. Some have pitched in as less as Rs 20 also.
What is your inspiration? Looks like you want the India Shining slogan of 2004 to reach your district.
Yes, definitely. The inspiration is the satisfaction from being able to serve those whom you owe a lot. My message to the young people is this: If we are true to our hearts and work with good intention and the love for humanity, wherever you are, it will continue to take you across. Also, we cannot only wait for the government to come along and do everything for us. There is certain amount of energy and contribution that each citizen can give for the nation’s growth.