Make roads first, rail tracks later: Arunachal residents

August 10th, 2011 - 1:40 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh Itanagar, Aug 10 (IANS) India’s massive plans to build three railway lines in Arunachal Pradesh for strategic reasons - the northeastern state borders China - has evoked a muted response from local lawmakers and community leaders who say New Delhi could have first focussed on roads and economic welfare instead.

The report of a standing committee of India’s defence ministry has come up with a detailed plan to boost border infrastructure in Arunachal Pradesh, mainly three major railway lines, with one linking adjoining Assam to Tawang, bordering China’s Tibet region.

The other two proposed strategic railway lines include North Lakhimpur in Assam to Along in Arunachal Pradesh and Murkongselek in Assam to Pasighat in Arunachal Pradesh. The most significant of the three rail projects is the one to Tawang, perched at an altitude of about 14,500 feet and bordering China.

The only mode of communication now to this strategic frontier sector in Tawang is a snaky rugged road that remains cut off due to heavy mudslides and snow during the monsoon season and winters. There is also an erratic helicopter service to Tawang.

“We would welcome any development measure but we would expect the central government to first make the road condition better rather than a railway line to Tawang that might take 20 to 30 years to complete considering the rough and hostile terrain,” Tshering Dhondup, ruling Congress lawmaker from the Tawang assembly constituency, told IANS.

Another grouse against New Delhi is that promises have often been made to be broken - a Rs.125 billion Trans-Arunachal Highway announced by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2008 and expected to be completed by 2013 was shelved before it took off without any reasons cited.

The 1,840-km-long Trans-Arunachal Pradesh Highway was supposed to link 11 district headquarters, while an additional 847 km of roads was to connect the remaining five district headquarters in the state.

“What we need are projects by New Delhi that could uplift the economic condition of the locals rather than trying to set up infrastructure purely for strategic reasons,” said Bamang Felix, a local civil rights campaigner.

“Yes, we want our borders to be secure and appreciate any welfare measures but the priority should be on roads first,” he said.

“What happened to the grand highway project? The prime minister announced the project and now we don’t know anything about that,” he added.

The mountainous state of Arunachal Pradesh shares a 1,030-km unfenced border with China. The two countries had fought a bitter war in 1962 with the Chinese troops advancing deep into Arunachal Pradesh and inflicting heavy casualties on Indian soldiers.

China has never recognised the 1914 McMahon Line, an imaginary border, and claims 90,000 sq km - nearly all of Arunachal Pradesh.

After 1962, tensions flared up again in 1986 with Indian and Chinese forces clashing in Sumdorong Chu valley of Arunachal. Chinese troops reportedly built a helipad in the valley, leading to fresh skirmishes.

(Syed Zarir Hussain can be contacted at zarirhussain@yahoo.com)

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