Event ReportsPublished on Jun 27, 2015
Despite the strategic significance of the corridor leading to Bomdila, Selapass, Tawang and Bumla Pass, the state of the road infrastructure is deplorable. Accessibility to food, proper sanitation, waste disposal and more importantly transport and logistics are some of the key concerns.
Plenty to be done to NE borders and people
India’s North-East, especially important regions like Tawang, face major infrastructural problems, including bad roads, according to Cmde RS Vasan, director of the Chennai Centre for China Studies. Initiating a discussion on "The Tawang Trail: A Reality Check" at Chennai chapter of Observer Research Foundation on 27 June, Cmde Vasan (Retd) said lack of engineering expertise, inaccessibility to requisite materials, and more importantly dearth of reliable service providers have proved to be major hurdles. He said the BRO still employs manual labour at these high altitudes despite the many advances in technology. Private sector participation in these road projects is completely absent, albeit possessing the means (technology, manpower and experience) to deliver these challenging projects. Reluctance to bid for these projects can be attributed to unattractive returns and difficult working conditions. Hence BRO is burdened with construction and even partly maintenance with limited resources and backward technology. Cmde Vasan, who had recently undertaken a trip to these regions, hoped that all this may change with the Act East policy of the new government, as the BRO is set to receive additional funding which will eventually flow into improving the Tezpur - Sela Pass - Tawang corridor. Recently, a parliamentary committee had also come down heavily on the condition of the road and indicted BRO and those in charge of negligence was brought out. Located at 10,000 feet above sea level in the Eastern Himalayas, Tawang is a centre of Buddhist culture and religion. Its proximity to the north-eastern border and LAC adds additional strategic significance to this region. The glorious beauty of Tawang is ever so slightly surmounted by the treacherous and challenging journey to this destination. Accessibility to Tawang from mainland Arunachal Pradesh is essential given its strategic character. Situated in a mountainous terrain, Tawang poses several logistical and physical challenges to both civilian and military operations, noted Vasan. The high altitude (10,000 ft at Tawang and close to 14,000 ft at the Sela pass) creates oxygen deficiency and poses immense physiological challenges for the jawans operating in this region. Climate acclimatization becomes an integral part of the army training in this region. Being physically fit and ready for combat requires considerable tuning of the human body to adapt to the low oxygen and harsh weather conditions that plague this region. Additionally, maintenance of battle worthy equipment in extreme weather conditions poses another complexity. Being able to maintain this equipment in battle ready condition and deploy them with minimum turn-around time requires considerable planning and maintenance activity, the Indian army have been doing an excellent job in this regard, noted Vasan. Operational complexities Apart from military challenges, there are several operational complexities that plague Tawang. Accessibility to food, proper sanitation, waste disposal and more importantly transport and logistics are some of the key concerns. Speaking on the logistical difficulties, Vasan noted that the road leading to Tawang from Bhalukpong is in shambles. Given the strategic significance of this corridor that leads to Bomdila, Selapass, Tawang and Bumla Pass, the state of the road infrastructure is deplorable. Constitutionally the accountability for all essential infrastructures in an administrative region lies with the district magistrate. However, the dual control (central and state government) of this corridor adds complexity to its construction and subsequent maintenance. Cmde Vasan said that the road leading up to Tawang is owned by the National Highways. The Union Transport ministry allocates funds required for the construction and maintenance of these roads. While the construction is carried out by BRO, the operational and maintenance activity falls within the purview of the state government and military. At higher altitudes and at stretches that pose strategic significance, the military operates and maintains the road. At lower altitudes, the local district administration (state government) is responsible for maintaining these roads. Socio-economic conditions Speaking on the socio-economic conditions in the region, Cmde Vasan stated that economic activities in the region are limited due to the terrain. Tourism provides seasonal revenue; otherwise opportunities for income generation are limited and poverty cohabits this region. Many inhabitants from Arunachal Pradesh find employment elsewhere in India, especially down south. The proposed hydroelectric power projects in this region might be the panacea to underdevelopment woes, opined Cmde Vasan. These projects could help create supplemental infrastructure such as better roads, hospitals, schools etc. and spur up economic activity. Medical facilities and hospitals, especially tertiary care units are scarce in the state. Cmde Vasan noted that several inhabitants of Arunachal Pradesh travel down south for medical treatments. Considering India’s budgetary spend on health care, it is not possible to ramp up health care facilities in this treacherous terrain in the immediate future. Furthermore finding qualified doctors and paramedical staff to support these health centres would be a challenging exercise. Flying doctors initiative and ramping up facilities at the army hospitals situated in this region can help meet the healthcare challenge in the near term. Cmde Vasan also touched up on the deployment of the Army, Air force units and Strategic Forces on either side of the Himalayas by China and India. Based on what was available in the public domain, the issue of raising the mountain Corps and the impact thereof was also discussed. Over all, what stood out clearly is that there is still plenty to be done to secure our North-Eastern borders while also doing a lot more to ensure that the patriotic North-Eastern populace are well integrated in to the main stream with imaginative planning and execution of various people and environmental friendly projects. (This report is prepared by Deepak Vijayaraghavan, Chennai)
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