By not allowing foreigners, India has conveyed a wrong impression to the world, more so as some areas of Arunachal Pradesh are claimed by China. Instead of showcasing the State as an integral part of the country through free movement, India has displayed a distinct lack of confidence and timidity, thereby harming its own case. Additionally, tourism is considered to be one of the most potent catalysts for economic development. By closing border areas to visitors, India not only deprived the area of immense economic benefits but also stalled social and emotional integration with the rest of the country.
Change of Focus of Border Roads Organisation
It is a well accepted fact that no socio-economic development of an area is possible without adequate infrastructure for surface communications. Due to rugged, inaccessible and inhospitable terrain, extension of rail and road network requires enormous effort and resources. With a view to expedite development of surface communication in the remote North and North Eastern Regions of the country, Border Roads Organisation (BRO) was raised on 07 May 1960. Initially, only two projects were raised, one for the North East at Tezpur and the other one at Srinagar. BRO proved its mettle by excelling in areas where no other agency would dare to venture. It has no peers where dedication, commitment and drive are required to undertake challenging assignments.
BROs straying from its designated responsibility has contributed considerably to the continued neglect of the frontier areas. Numerous roads in frontier area are lying incomplete and a large number of critical bridges have got mired in design infirmities.
However, over a period of time certain distortions in role definition of BRO have crept in. Instead of confining itself to its primary task of constructing and maintaining surface communications in frontier areas, it started resorting to ill-advised role expansion. Chief raison d’être for its raising was forgotten and it started masquerading as a regular infra-structure organisation with pan-India responsibility. It soon lost focus on the development of frontier areas and started preferring tasks in the more comfortable environs of the plains. Sadly, this highly committed uniformed force has started functioning as a run of the mill civil construction agency.
While its work in the frontier areas continued to suffer, it started undertaking agency and deposit works for other entities in the heartland. Further, it entered incongruent fields like construction of buildings, airfields and border fencing. Worse, ignoring its total lack of wherewithal of mechanised road construction, it undertook construction of 18 km long expressway between Pathankot and Jammu on NH1A with disastrous results. BRO’s straying from its designated responsibility has contributed considerably to the continued neglect of the frontier areas. Numerous roads in frontier area are lying incomplete and a large number of critical bridges have got mired in design infirmities. The magnitude of the problem can be gauged from the fact that it would take BRO 20 years to clear the backlog of about 36,000 meters of bridging work (mostly in frontier areas).
The Way Forward
As expansion of surface communication is a prerequisite for every developmental initiative, Government’s first priority should be to provide adequate funds to BRO and make it refocus on its primary responsibility. BRO should not be permitted to undertake any other assignment. It could, however, be assigned tasks which further national interests like road construction in Afghanistan and Myanmar, which other construction agencies dread to undertake. A ‘Fast Track’ procedure should be put in place to facilitate expeditious action to deal with extraordinary situations.
‘Inner Line Permit’ system should be totally abolished. Nature has bestowed India’s frontier areas with exceptional scenic beauty and varied terrain. Adventure tourism can be developed with minimal investment and considerable returns. Existence of one of world’s twelve hot spots (biosphere reserves) can be used to promote bio-tourism. However, while framing policies, due attention must be paid to ethnic, cultural and physiographical diversity of the areas.
India must admit failure of its past policy. Historical neglect is required to be replaced by concerted and expeditious economic progress. Isolation and deprivation of vast frontier areas do not augur well for national unity and well-being.
As trade and economic development are inter-dependent, cross-border trade with neighbouring countries would help generate economic activities, especially as the area suffers disadvantages of a long transport lead from the heartland and consequent heavy transport costs.
Due to the availability of large tracts of land, congenial climate and unique terrain, frontier areas are ideally suited for academic activities. The Central Government should consider establishment of institutions of excellence to encourage students from the plains to study there. Certain subsidy can be provided in the initial stages. Such an initiative will cost little but offer huge returns. In addition to spurring economic activities, it will promote better understanding and emotional bonding between the local population and other Indians.
It is generally estimated that the frontier areas possess close to 100,000 MW of hydropower potential. When fully exploited, it can provide effective stimulus for local industrial activity. Considerable revenue can be earned by supplying surplus power to the neighbouring States. Similarly, the areas have huge confirmed mineral deposits of crude oil, natural gas, coal, iron, limestone, dolomite, graphite, granite and many precious and semi-precious stones. However, their exploitation depends on the development of surface communication network.
India must admit failure of its past policy. Historical neglect is required to be replaced by concerted and expeditious economic progress. Isolation and deprivation of vast frontier areas do not augur well for national unity and well-being. India’s security interests would be best served by assimilating the frontier areas into the mainstream through extensive infrastructural development and emotional integration.