Under the Vibrant Village Programme (VVP), villages near the LAC in Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal are to be developed. How many and where will they come up, given the aggressive posture of PLA, empowered by China’s New Border Law plus road connectivity?
|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army|
As part of her budget speech in Parliament on February 1, 2022, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said, “Border villages with sparse population, limited connectivity and infrastructure often get left out from the development gains. Such villages on the northern border will be covered under the new ‘Vibrant Villages Programme’. The activities will include construction of village infrastructure, housing, tourist centres, road connectivity, provisioning of decentralised renewable energy, direct to home access for Doordarshan and educational channels, and support for livelihood generation. Additional funding for these activities will be provided. Existing schemes will be converged. We will define their outcomes and monitor them on a constant basis.”
According to media, the above move is months after it emerged that China had built self-sustaining villages along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) for dual use — civil and military. With an increased military focus on the LAC, infrastructure has to be ramped up. In a report in November last, the US Department of Defence had said that China had built a large 100-home civilian village inside disputed territory between its Tibet Autonomous Region and Arunachal Pradesh. Under the Vibrant Village Programme (VVP), villages near the LAC in Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal are to be developed; to include construction of village infrastructure, housing, tourist centres, road connectivity, and the like.
China’s “well-off society village” at Longju in Arunachal Pradesh has all the elements of opening another armed front to Indiaand China is planning to set up such villages in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK) also.
The focus of VVP apparently is on ‘existing’ border villages, not constructing new ones. Even if it does include constructing new villages, how many and where will they come up,given the aggressive posture of PLA, empowered by China’s New Border Law plus road connectivity? The emphasis of the VVP, therefore, will be more on road, TV and mobile connectivity which is woefully short or non-existent. In terms of road connectivity under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Vikas Yojna (PGVY), roads are to be built only to villages in forward areas with a population of 100 or more. Hopefully, these PGVY norms will be changed – which is an urgent requirement!
It may be recalled that when a hunter by chance discovered Chinese building a road in Tuting area 1.25 km inside Indian Territory under three feet of snow during December 2017, the nearest village one day walk away was Bishing, which had no road under the PGVY norm. Abduction of a teenager by PLA on January 18, 2022 and returned after nine days was executed in the same area. As for boosting tourism under the VVP, government would do well to look at the widespread ‘home stay’ which villagers of Himachal Pradesh are providing.
Compared to the VVP, China’s ‘dual use’ villages are in a different league altogether. The annual report of the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC), released in November 2021, said that China was building “militarised villages” having electronic warfare systems and air defence stations close to India in the area of Doklam Plateau of Bhutan. China would have done the same in new border villages built in Arunachal Pradesh (India), which serve as advance camps for the PLA.
After the discovery of the abovementioned 100-house Chinese village in Arunachal Pradesh, satellite imagery picked up another 60-houses cluster in another area of Arunachal which China claims its territory on grounds that the LAC is not demarcated. These villages have come up while the India-China standoff is continuing in Eastern Ladakh since May-June 2020 and both sides are mobilised along the entire LAC. China has constructed similar villages in Bhutan and Nepal. China even disregarded its own 1961 treaty with Nepal and demolished border markers in several border areas to undertake encroachments and construction.
Compared to the VVP, China’s ‘dual use’ villages are in a different league altogether. China was building “militarised villages” having electronic warfare systems and air defence stations close to India in the area of Doklam Plateau of Bhutan.
According to Srikanth Kondapalli, Professor of Chinese Studies in JNU, since July 2017, China had aimed to set up 628 'well-off' society villages all across the Tibet border areas; Chinese village at Metok bordering the upper Subansari district in Arunachal Pradesh, where it also intends to build one of the largest hydroelectricity dams in the world across the Yarlong Zangbo river, which becomes the Brahmaputra - Metok is connected to Nyingchi by a highway that was constructed with the investment of over $300 million; China’s “well-off society village” at Longju in Arunachal Pradesh has all the elements of opening another armed front to India, already straddled with the Ladakh-Aksai Chin stand-off since 2020, and; China is planning to set up such villages in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK) also.
On January 17, 2022, Jamie Seidel wrote in an article that satellite photos show China constructing two large villages well within the territory of Bhutan to outflank nearby Indian border forces, which isn’t the first time China has done so. In 2020, China established what it called “Tibetan” village but it was 2.5 km inside Bhutan. Now, new satellite images reveal that the number of villages under construction astride a road being cut through mountain passes is six – all, well within Bhutanese territory.
Government needs to give serious thought to this issue. New 3-D dual-use villages could be set up in quick time with appropriate personnel, equipment and logistics rather than cowering in fear of Chinese reaction.
The security implications of China’s dual-use villages, militarised villages and well-off society villages should be pretty evident. Not only are these villages housing Han Chinese to change the demography of the area, these are advance camps for the PLA replete with intelligence personnel, electronic warfare systems and air defence stations. Even if there is de-mobilisation along the LAC, chances of which are remote, these villages can be used by the PLA to execute surprise aggressive actions including surging forward to occupy more territory and staying put.
Finally, our VVP is good in its own way but no match to China’s militarised villages that are coming up at fast pace. This is particularly relevant to large tracts in Arunachal Pradesh and some other places, where our troops occupy forward locations only during annual mobilisation exercises or in run up to war situations. Government needs to give serious thought to this issue. New 3-D dual-use villages could be set up in quick time with appropriate personnel, equipment and logistics rather than cowering in fear of Chinese reaction. This will need a holistic plan covering the entire LAC and speedy implementation. Creating an odd village for propaganda purposes to impress own population will be foolhardy. Thought also must be given to the militarised villages China plans to set up in POK.