Integrated development, politics and social empowerment in India and beyond

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Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

The development of Arunachal is the best antidote to Chinese claims. The programmes unfolded in this regard include a 1,840 km long east-west highway  which will open up new areas, enhance connectivity and foster closer integration.

Our Land of the Rising Sun

The development of Arunachal is the best antidote to Chinese claims.

By B G Verghese

Deccan Herald/Tribune, 5 February, 2008

A prime ministerial visit to Arunachal after a gap of nine years need not occasion the surprise and speculation it has in some quarters. This was not a panic follow up to Dr Manmohan Singh’s recent China visit and continuing Chinese claims on Arunachal, and to Tawang in particular. Arunachal is very much part of India and if the Chinese are now disputing anything it is essentially some pockets along the unsettled boundary, though larger claims have not been formally abandoned and are reiterated from time to time.

Dr Manmohan Singh had indeed planned a trip to Arunachal earlier but was unable to do go because of other exigencies. His predecessor, Mr Vajpayee has a knee problem and would have had to strain himself unduly to undertake so arduous a mountain journey. However the omission of Tawang on the itinerary was probably fortuitous as it was his intention was to visit Itanagar and travel further east to lay the foundation stones of the 100 MW Papumpare and 3000 MW Dibang hydro projects. There was no particular reason to visit Tawang in the fatuous belief that this would score a point against China.

The development of Arunachal is the best antidote to Chinese claims. The programmes unfolded in this regard include a 1840 km long east-west highway  which will open up new areas, enhance connectivity and foster closer integration among Arunachal’s many ethnic communities. The northern borders of the State are to be “energized” by means of solar and other non-conventional stand-alone sources that will avoid expensive transmission leads. The construction of Itanagar airport and railhead are to be expedited and the State brought within the compass of an extended Buddhist tourism circuit. A number of advanced landing grounds are proposed to be revived and, hopefully, soon activated as before.

Few realize that Arunachl was far better connected by air in the 1950s and 1960s than it is today. The ubiquitous Dakota, was phased out and private carriers that undertook civil air supply missions and ran an air taxi service to remote parts of NEFA withdrew, leaving the field to Indian Airlines and its subsidiaries, which could not cope.

The proposed public sector NE regional air service is not the answer. There is no reason why private air carriers should not be licensed to run a regional air service with a Guwahati hub and extra-regional links. Further, they should be permitted to operate smaller aircraft of their choice and to negotiate with the IAF to take over some or all of its civil and even military air supply role in the region so that it is guaranteed a revenue base. Any perceived security or air safety threats would be mistaken. If Nepal and Bhutan can operate small aircraft with success and profit there is no reason why this should fail in the Northeast.

A similar private regional air service in Jammu and Kashmir would also be very appropriate and do a world of good for connectivity, better administration and integration.

The Prime Minister’s visit to Kibithu on the upper Luhit near the Chinese border must have cheered the Army jawans in that remote frontier outpost. It should be a step towards opening up border trade with the Tibetan region in this and other sectors. It is good that the Government has initiated discussions with the Chinese for expanding the trade protocol via Nathu La in Sikkim, going beyond simple border trade. There are real possibilities of valuable two way exchanges and fears of being swamped by cheap Chinese goods are exaggerated as they have been in the past. In any event, a little competition could stimulate quality and productivity in nascent Indian enterprise.

Alarms about reported Chinese protests regarding alleged Indian troop movements in Sikkim are unwarranted. All that has happened is that a division that had been moved from Sikkim to the Pakistan border at the time of Operation Parakaram has been relocated from where it was initially moved. Nor is there any real cause for worry about reports of stray Chinese incursions across the Line if Actual Control in Arunachal. Such crossings are inadvertent in difficult, mountainous terrain and there is no question of Indian territory being nibbled away. The pity is that the Chinese will not exchange maps even on settled sectors of the boundary until the entire boundary is agreed upon. This has caused inadvertent crossings but to put any more sinister interpretation on such events would be unwise.      

The Dibang project should make Arunachal ponder what it means to do with the power generated. Export it outside the region through the grid after marginal uses within the State? That would fetch some revenue of course but  forego the larger income and employment that could be generated by local value addition. If this is to accomplished alongside some flood and erosion moderation, industrialization and capacity, Arunachal could not do better than negotiate with Assam to convert the disputed 740 km border strip between them into a “trusteeship zone” in partnership with the Centre to be developed as an SEZ, utilizing the infrastructure that needs to be developed to construct the project as a lever.

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