Observing that the situation along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh remains stable but unpredictable, Lt. General Rana Pratap Kalita, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Eastern Command said on Friday that there was a proposal to develop 130 villages as model villages in areas along that border.
“Work has started in two-three villages, Kaho [in eastern Arunachal Pradesh} to be specific. Similarly all across the eastern theatre we have identified 130 villages and a similar number, lesser or more, has been identified in eastern Ladakh and in Himachal and Uttarakhand,” said Lt. Gen Kalita. Noting that the model villages initiative was announced in last year’s Union Budget, he said that it was an ongoing process aimed at ensuring that there was no migration from such border villages in search of livelihood.
The GOC-in-C Eastern Command’s remarks are crucial, as they come in the wake of reports of China expanding its own chain of model villages close to the LAC, opposite Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.
‘Border not clearly demarcated’
Interacting with journalists at the Press Club in Kolkata, Lt. Gen. Kalita touched on a number of issues, including the reasons for recent skirmishes between the Indian Army and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) along the LAC in the eastern theatre. On December 13, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh told Parliament that the Chinese troops tried to “unilaterally” change the status quo in the Yangtse area in Arunachal Pradesh but the Indian Army compelled them to retreat with its firm and resolute response.
“Whole problem stems from the fact that the border between India and China in Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh is not clearly demarcated. So there are different perceptions about the Line of Actual Control which leads to friction and escalation at times,” Lt. Gen. Kalita added.
Mirroring cross-border infrastructure
Reports of increase of Chinese troops along the border are being monitored, he said. “We have read that gradually there has been an increase in deployment of troops opposite our sectors along with infrastructure being carried out by the PLA across the down borders.. We are continuously and closely monitoring the developments in these areas,” he added.
Asked about the Chinese build-up at Chumbi valley and steps being taken to protect the chicken’s neck corridor near Siliguri, Lt. General Kalita said, “Siliguri corridor is geo-strategically extremely important to us… On our side, to mirror those activities, infrastructure development has been carried out to ensure better response from us in case we are required to do it.”
The GOC-in-C Eastern Command said that the PLA had started infrastructure development after the 2017 Doklam standoff within their own territory. He added that work on a frontier highway in Arunachal Pradesh, along with tunnels, is going to start soon.
Porous border with Myanmar
Lt. General Kalita said that the internal situation in northeastern India has improved quite a lot in recent years and underlined that the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) has been withdrawn from certain districts of Assam, Nagaland and Manipur. Noting that AFSPA was withdrawn after a lot of deliberations with stakeholders, he said that removal of the special powers were not hindering Army operations in any way.
“The problem areas remain in the areas close to the Indo-Myanmar border, because of the porosity of the border. People are free to travel between the Indo-Myanmar border, and common tribes are populating both sides of the border. There are certain challenges in maintaining the sanctity of the border in those areas,” he added.