An abiding blot in independent India’s history is set to be erased later this month when the country’s easternmost administrative circle will, nearly 75 years after the British departed from the country’s shores, get connected by an all-weather motorable road.
Vioynagar, in Arunachal’s eastern Changlang district, is where the sun’s first rays hit Indian soil. It is where dawn first breaks in India. But the 5,000-odd residents of the small town and its surrounding hamlets have remained cut off from the rest of the country for the past seven and half decades.
The locals — mostly Gorkha ex-servicemen who were offered incentives to settle there, and the indigenous Yobin (or Lisu) tribe — have to trek for seven to 10 days over more than 250 kilometres of rugged terrain, thick forests inhabited by wild animals and high mountain passes to reach the nearest roadhead at Miao.
This trek, apart from being arduous, is also very risky and has often claimed lives and limbs. There are slippery slopes, steep rock faces, fast-flowing mountain streams and rivulets, and forests inhabited by poisonous snakes and insects, and wild animals like tigers and sloth bears, to negotiate on this route. Many have suffered injuries or have died while trekking to and from Miao.
Successive Congress governments in the state and the Centre turned down several pleas by locals to lay a road connected Vijoynagar to Miao. It made little difference to those Congress governments that a solemn promise made to the mostly Gorkha ex-servicemen who were settled in Vijoynagar to provide a proper road connecting that place to Miao was being blatantly violated.
It was only in 2013, after decades of slumber that the state and central governments (Congress was in power in both at that time) woke up to the need to connect the strategically important Vijoynagar with a road. Surveys were carried out and the plan for a 157.5 km road connecting Vijoynagar to Miao was approved.
But, as has often been the case with Congress governments, the project did not proceed on the ground and remained confined to the drawing boards. It was only from early 2017, when a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government was formed in the state, that the project gained steam.
Chief Minister Pema Khandu and state Governor Brigadier (retired) B D Sharma started taking personal interest in the project and keeping close tabs on its progress. The Narendra Modi government also promised help to the state government and developed a stake in early completion of the road.
Chief Minister Khandu undertook a back-breaking journey on the kutcha, slush-filled road that was under construction a year ago, driving more than 10 hours from Miao to reach Vijoynagar in an SUV. Photos of him walking and driving on that under-construction road had gone viral (read this).
The Chief Minister sorted out all issues dogging early completion of the project at the end of the journey on that road and passed strict instructions to the construction firms and government engineers supervising the project to stick to the deadlines.
The difficult terrain and the remoteness of the place, coupled with the pandemic, delayed the project for months. “It is difficult to get labourers to come and work here. They demand a lot of money. Construction materials are not readily available, and they cost a lot more. Torrential rains throughout the year, thick forests and steep mountains have also delayed the construction of this road,” B D Mohanty, a site engineer, told Swarajya.
The road’s alignment also had to be changed after wildlife authorities objected to the road passing through the Namdapha National Park. All that took time, and an extra Rs 40 crore.
But the long wait will finally be over later this month. State Deputy Chief Minister Chowna Mein, who led a delegation of ministers and senior officers to Vijoynagar last weekend, reviewed the progress of construction and announced that the road would become motorable by 25 April.
The black-topping of the entire 157.56 km road, being constructed under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY), will be completed by September this year. After that, it will be handed over to the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) for upkeep and further strengthening and widening.
Besides making the journey between Vijoynagar and Miao fast, safe and smooth, the new road will usher in fast-paced development in India’s easternmost administrative circle. “This road will bring in development, so prepare yourselves for tremendous growth in tourism, agriculture and horticulture. It will be very easy to bring in construction materials and so you will see a lot of physical infrastructure coming up,” the Deputy Chief Minister told a gathering of locals last weekend.
He said that as soon as the road becomes motorable by this month-end, construction of a multipurpose community hall, administrative offices, staff quarters and a new police station will commence. Apart from providing vehicles to police and administrative officers at Vijoynagar — till now, they had to move around on foot — the Deputy Chief Minister said ambulances and public utility vehicles will also be provided to the people of the area. A regular bus service will also be started.
Chowna Mein said that apart from a post office and a bank, other public utilities will also come up at Vijoynagar by the end of this year. “The road will allow the government to bring in equipment to set up three power plants — the 4 x 250 KW Dehing micro hydroelectric project (MHP) at Vijoynagar, 2 x 250 KW Sirit MHP at Preetnagar and 2 x 25 KW Preet MHP at Mazgaon.” Mein said Rs 329 crore has already been sanctioned for the Preet MHP project.
How The New Road Will Change Lives
The prices of all essential commodities will come down drastically. Till date, everything has to be either transported by military aircraft and choppers to Vijoynagar, or carried by porters from Miao. A 1 kg packet of salt costs Rs 250 in Vijoynagar, 1 kg of sugar costs Rs 350 while a bag of cement costs Rs 7,000.
People will get access to a post office and bank
People of Vijoynagar will be able to travel quickly to Miao and then to Assam for medical attention, education and other requirements.
Education will get a boost: due to Vijoynagar’s remoteness, teachers posted in the government school there were reluctant to attend school. That will change. Class X students have to trek to Miao to take their CBSE exams since invigilators would refuse to trek to Vijoynagar. That will no longer be the case
Healthcare will improve dramatically since new medical facilities will come up and doctors and paramedical staff will not be able to refuse to travel to and work in Vijoynagar due to the absence of a road. The chronic shortage of medicines in Vijoynagar will be a thing of the past.
With administrative offices coming up in Vijoynagar, the needs of the locals will also be addressed faster.
Communication will improve drastically with new mobile towers coming up in Vijoynagar
Farmers and artisans will be able to transport and sell their produce outside Vijoynagar and will be able to get good prices. Incomes will also increase with inflow of tourists
History Of Vijoynagar
Amidst reports of intrusion by people from Burma (as Myanmar was known then) across the un-demarcated border into that part of North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA, which was the precursor to Arunachal Pradesh), the government of India decided to send expeditionary teams there. New Delhi was alarmed over reports in the 1950s that Lishu hunters from Burma, in search of musk deer, had discovered a valley east of Miao and were settling down there.
Little was known about the valley east of Miao and cartographic details of the area were absent. No administrative official had ever set foot in the area.
The first expedition from Miao led by a team from the 7th Battalion of the Assam Rifles in June 1960 was unsuccessful as it could not negotiate the thick jungles of what is now the Namdapha National Park. A second expedition in February the next year under the leadership of Major Sumer Singh of 7 Assam Rifles could only reach upto a spot that is now called Gandhigram, 22 km short of Vijoynagar.
Finally, an expedition led by Assam Rifles Inspector General, Brigadier (later Major General) Ajit Singh Gaurya, reached Chaukan Pass and the valley. Brigadier Gaurya named the valley Vijoynagar after his son Vijoy. The Indian tricolour was hoisted there for the first time on 27 November 1961. A chief of the Singpho tribe, Pisila Singpho, played a crucial role in this expedition’s success and was awarded a gold medal for his service.
An Assam Rifles platoon was also stationed in Vijoynagar and a helipad — it was quickly extended to an advanced landing ground to facilitate landings and takeoffs of military transport aircraft — was constructed.
But since the Valley had no inhabitants except for Lishu (Yobin) settlers, the authorities decided to populate Vijoynagar with ex-servicemen (and their families) of the Assam Rifles. A total of 200 families of retired Assam Rifles soldiers were transported in military transport aircraft to Vijoynagar between 1963 and 1971 (read about them here).
The settlers were given large parcels of land for cultivation, besides livestock, construction materials for building their homes and cash doles. They were promised free transportation by Indian Air Force transport aircraft to the nearest air base at Dibrugarh in Assam twice a year till the time a road was constructed to link Vijoynagar to Miao. This road link, they were promised by the government of India, would be ready in five years’ time.
That crucial promise was never kept and the people of Vijoynagar had to suffer terribly all these decades as a result of that broken pledge. Deprived of power, water, education, proper healthcare and even some basic necessities of life — all because of a road that was never constructed — the people of Vijoynagar led a miserable existence.
Some of the settlers tried to leave, but were prevented from doing so. At one time, the Congress government at the Centre passed a rule prohibiting families of the ex-servicemen from travelling out of Vijoynagar together to prevent them from fleeing the place!
Their only saviour in these dark decades has been the local unit of the Assam Rifles which has provided them with solar lamps, free healthcare at its base, rations and other necessities (read this). The Assam Rifles has also facilitated their travel out of Vijoynagar on IAF transport aircraft, especially at times of medical or other emergencies. But the altitude and often poor visibility there precludes regular flights to Vijoynagar.
All this is set to change and the long-neglected residents of Vijoynagar look forward to a new dawn this month-end. And they can’t thank the BJP governments in their state and the Centre enough for the lifeline that will transform their lives.
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