By Patial RC*
The past few years have witnessed a spate of reports about Chinese constructing new villages in unpopulated areas of disputed areas of its Himalayan border with India,Nepal and Bhutan. China through this clever modus operandi is not only trying to establish their territorial claims but also enhancing their border surveillance and security.
The Eastern Ladakh confrontation of second half of 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic which lasted several months further led to the Chinese spree of infrastructure development along the entire LAC both of military facilities and populating their border areas by constructing new villages. It is believed that the plans are to build more than over 500 villages along the LAC over the next few years. For the Chinese this Border Area Development may be new but India did start these initiatives in late 2080s but not on a serious note but obviously not for any territorial claims like its adversary!
China’s New Border Law regarding the development of the border region states that the PRC will take up education and propaganda in order to “solidify the sense of community of China, to promote the spirit of China, to defend the unity and territorial integrity of the country, strengthen citizens’ sense of the country and homeland security, and build a common spiritual home for the Chinese nation” amongst citizens in the border region. To this effect the law mandates to improve border public services and infrastructure, support their livelihoods and improve the living conditions.
Under President Xi Jinping, China has continued building a vast network of infrastructure projects like roads, railroads and airports in Tibet – all with dual-use capabilities. The latest spree to establish villages in border areas is to claim and secure the border areas. The recent military modernization has helped China to gain an operational advantage along the border with India.
In India over the years a reverse trend has started of depopulation and even of abandonment of villages particularly of the border areas. Reasons for this migration from rural to urban shift are many. Employment opportunities in urban areas are available and life is physically easy. Land holdings in the hilly areas are meager, mostly non-irrigated and dependent on rain water. Poor education facilities are another major reason for this shift. It has been seen that a large number of families have shifted out or only old people are staying back in these hill villages with few houses remaining locked. For this reason, the Border Area Development Programme (BADP) was initiated by India to strengthen India’s security by ensuring development of border areas.
India had neglected the development of its border areas for decades, as part of a naïve and misguided strategy along its over 4,000 kilometers-long disputed border with China. The logic was simple: India didn’t want to give the Chinese an easy roll down, if it ever wanted to repeat the 1962 war and encroach into Indian territory. India’s mindset seems to be changing now. In 2010, then-Defense Minister Antony said “India had deliberately neglected the infrastructure on its side of the LAC as a deterrent against Chinese aggression…an ‘Incorrect approach’ and stated that there is a turnaround in government policy.” Prime Minister Narendra Modi is trying to change all that and the Modi government is rightly accelerating the pace of infrastructure development of the border areas.
The BADP aims to meet the special development needs of the people living in remote and inaccessible areas situated near the international border areas with the essential infrastructure through joint participation of Central/State/BADP and Local schemes. Under this programme priority is given to the areas closer to the border. What people need is a decent livelihood through their skills-growing Himalayan medicinal herbs, as well as encouraging wool production, carpet weaving, floriculture, horticulture, mushroom cultivation, beekeeping etc. Need to encourage religious Buddhist tourism into the border areas . Locals to make homestay as means of part lively hood and restriction be placed on big hotels.
India in the past has inhabited new border areas or remote island territories of Andaman and Nicobar. Post 1947 India’s partition, the Indian government started to promote the option of relocating to the Andaman’s and majority Bengalis from East Pakistan got resettled in Andaman and Nicobar. A population of 330-odd ex-servicemen and their families were settled on the Great Nicobar Island as part of a Union government-sponsored rehabilitation scheme that began in 1969. Primary aim was to address the strategic security concern to populate the southern frontier. Most of these families had come to the Great Nicobar Island from the mainland with nothing but a dream of a decent and peaceful life.
In 1961-1962 Maj Gen AS Gauraya, Inspector General Assam Rifles prepared a programme for settling retired defence personnel, especially of the Assam Rifles in an uninhabited zone of Indian Territory jutting into Burma (Myanmar) and named the region Vijaynagar. Settlement process was initiated by the NEFA (North East Frontier Agency now known as Arunachal Pradesh). Two hundred families of Assam Rifles soldiers, majority of whom were Gurkhas, were settled there. Vijaynagar is the most remote town of the Changlang Arunachal Pradesh India. Vijaynagar is now a cluster of 12 villages on the border with Myanmar.
These confusions actually continue as there is no ‘international boundary’ between India and China. However, the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen Bipin Rawat, has stated that there had been construction of ‘these so-called villages but are well within their (Chinese) side of the LAC!’
Notwithstanding the claims and counterclaims of reports about Chinese constructing new villages in disputed areas along the borders, India has to remain vigilant of the Chinese designs of their dual purpose of border area development firstly of the exact location and secondly who are being settled in these border villages? They could be the families of the PLA and Border Guards People’s Armed Police (PAP) raised specifically for the northern frontier counterpart of the Indian Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) for further enhancing surveillance, security of their borders and stake territorial claims.
Carrying forward the BADP the Modi government is redoubling efforts to improve connectivity in Border States. The focus is on a massive infrastructure development program across the border areas of Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh. Arunachal governments have demanded to provide other facilities as well, so that villagers are not forced to leave their land for a better quality of life. The initiative taken by the legislators is aimed to strengthen the border villages. What the lawmakers want are better schools, colleges and health facilities so that people do not have to travel to district headquarters for their basic needs. This approach, if taken up with sincere efforts, is likely to stop rearward migration resulting in automatic Border Area Development and improve border surveillance .
*Patial RC is a retired Infantry officer of the Indian Army. Possess unique experience of serving in active CI Ops across the country and in Sri Lanka. Regular writer on matters military and travel in military professional journals. The veteran is a keen mountaineer and a trekker.