Given Beijing’s claim over it, Arunachal Pradesh has been wary of increased activities by the People’s Liberation Army across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) since the Ladakh standoff in May. With reports that China has started working on railway up to his State’s border, Chief Minister Pema Khandu has been pushing for better connectivity to the Himalayan heights, specifically the Frontier Highway along the border to facilitate faster movement of troops during a war-like situation and give locals more accessibility by default.
In an interview to The Hindu, Mr. Khandu said the project has gained momentum after all armed forces, Border Roads Organisation and other stakeholder agencies were brought on the same page for a coordinated approach to build the highway along the 1,100 km Line of Actual Control.
Insisting on calling it the Tibetan border despite India’s official position of “acknowledging China’s annexation of Tibet”, Mr. Khandu regretted the State’s inability to get “cheaper” foreign funding because of Beijing’s “interference”.
Vast stretches of the LAC in Arunachal Pradesh are inaccessible while China, reports say, is working on railway and military infrastructure up to the border. How does your government view this?
If one goes by the history of conflicts since 1962 and unfounded claims over Arunachal Pradesh, it is imperative to protect our homeland. Many stretches of the border are indeed inaccessible. This is why we are pushing for the Frontier Highway along the 1,100 km LAC to facilitate faster movement of troops. Projects for the border areas used to get confused because of multiple agencies. We have changed this through a coordinated approach so that everyone from the Army, Indo-Tibetan Border Police, Border Roads Organisation and State agencies plan things out together for quality, speedy execution. A detailed project report (DPR) is being made after meetings with the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Defence Ministry.
Isn’t that a literally uphill task in view of the fragile ecology of the Eastern Himalayas?
This is where the coordination is crucial. We want the best alignment closest to the Tibetan border with minimum impact on the slopes. There will be a lot of tunnels for the Frontier Highway that will touch existing roads and tracks in some areas. Tunnels are already being built for shortening the highway to Tawang from Assam. The railway to Tawang being surveyed also envisages tunnels.
Arunachal Pradesh has always shared its border with Tibet, not with China. This is an historical fact that none can erase. The world knows that China annexed Tibet.
Are you looking at foreign investment for the highway projects?
The terrain and natural factors such as landslides make our projects expensive. Foreign funding agencies provide loans at cheaper interest rates that benefit many States in India but China has continuously been blocking such funding for us because of its unfounded claim (over Arunachal Pradesh). China’s interference has denied us loans from Asian Development Bank and others.
Nevertheless, the Centre has been providing assistance to projects such as the ongoing 1,600 km Trans-Arunachal Highway project, which has had cost overruns due to land compensation issues. But we have taken action against officials and agencies for misappropriation of funds besides letting the people know if they need roads and other infrastructure, they should give up claiming compensation that takes up a big percentage of a project cost. The East-West Industrial Corridor planned along the foothills bordering Assam is without such claims.
What purpose would the Industrial Corridor serve?
Ours is a resourceful State but communication is the biggest bottleneck. We are emphasising digital connectivity to the remotest of places. But roads are of utmost importance, particularly in border areas from where people have been migrating because of accessibility. Tourism, our strength, also needs good roads. We were told a special desk will be created for Arunachal for investment under Invest India. We are eyeing investments in agriculture and horticulture-based and non-polluting industries. We have prepared the DPR for the Industrial Corridor that would be ideal for such industries besides enabling our people to move from one corner of the State to another without having to travel through Assam.
What about hydropower projects that environmentalists are critical of?
Tribal societies coexist with nature. The Central Electricity Authority says Arunachal has potential to produce 50,000 MW of hydropower, which is needed for our industrial dream. But at the same time we know it is important to conserve the nature that sustains us. We have terminated many projects for which agreements were signed years ago because they were not right or not progressing. We are pursuing the feasible ones.
The 100 MW Pare project was inaugurated in 2019 and two units of the 600 MW Kameng project were started during the lockdown. We are power surplus now but we don’t have the grid to distribute power adequately across the State. Things are changing with new substations and transmission lines being installed.
Source: The HIndu