Govt. to open villages along China border to tourists

Move to improve infra under Vibrant Villages scheme

Published - March 12, 2022 10:34 pm IST - New Delhi

Kangsing, a group that performs ice and snow workshops, visits the “mini-colosseum” cafeteria in Chilling village in Ladakh on February 7, 2022.

Kangsing, a group that performs ice and snow workshops, visits the “mini-colosseum” cafeteria in Chilling village in Ladakh on February 7, 2022. | Photo Credit: AFP

The Union government plans to open the villages along the Chinese border for tourists under the Vibrant Village programme announced in the Union Budget 2022-23.

Recently the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) held a meeting with public representatives of such villages from the States of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh and the Union Territory of Ladakh.

A senior government official said the budget provisions for the programme have been sent to the Expenditure Finance Committee for its approval after which the scheme will be presented before the Union Cabinet headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Tashi Gyalson, chief executive councillor of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) told The Hindu that a pre-exercise on plan formulation is underway at the district level under the vibrant village programme in order to strengthen every border village.

“Some villages in Ladakh such as that in Changthang region can be turned into dark sky destination that could attract astronomy enthusiasts. Since the terrain is tough, several measures will have to be taken to improve the facilities for tourists,” Mr. Gyalson who represents the BJP in the LAHDC, said.

On February 23, at a virtual meeting organised by the Rural Development Ministry, a senior MHA official said that for economic activities under the scheme, “emphasis be given on tourism and culture.”

“In the Vibrant Villages programme, programmes related to livelihood generation, road connectivity, housing, rural infrastructure, renewable energy, television and broadband connections should be undertaken,” the official stated.

A Parliamentary Committee on Home Affairs in its December 2021 report had recommended that all villages in Ladakh, particularly those located in Zero-Border like Chumar and Demchok, should be electrified “in order to stop migration of people from these areas.”

According to the report, of 236 habitable villages in Ladakh, only 172 have telecom infrastructure and “only 24 and 78 villages have 3G and 4G Internet connectivity” respectively.

According to Konchok Stanzin, councillor of Chushul in Eastern Ladakh, there are 19 villages along border village that have nil or partial communicaton facilities.

China has established several new villages along the LAC in the past few years particularly across the Arunachal Pradesh border.

Another government official said the Vibrant Village programme was a counter to China’s model villages but the nomenclature has been carefully chosen so as to not cause any consternation in the neighbouring country. China and India have been engaged in a standoff at multiple locations in Eastern Ladakh fo the past two years and in one of the violent clashes with the China’s Peoples Liberation Army (PLA), as many as 20 Indian soldiers were killed.

Mr. Stanzin said the MHA has asked for suggestions to develop the border villages.

“The Ministry has said the proposal should have a bottoms-up approach, starting from gram sabha to district to State level. The young generation is migrating to cities and towns and if steps are not taken then these villages will be deserted,” he said. He stated that he has suggested to the Ministry that a fixed salary should be granted to the border population. “Many depend on livestock for a living and the younger generation does not want to stay in the villages. If the traditional occupations are to be preserved, then government will have to subsist their incomes,” Mr. Stanzin said.

In her Union Budget speech on February 1, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had 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.”

There is already a broader Border Area Development Plan undertaken by the Ministry of Home Affairs for development of all border States.

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