To Please China, ADB Excludes Arunachal From Its Mega Project For North-Eastern India; Here’s The Reply India Can Deliver
It all started in June 2009 itself when China objected to an irrigation project in Arunachal on the ground that the state was “disputed territory”.
Keeping in mind China’s sensitivities and claims over Arunachal Pradesh, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has excluded the Northeast Indian state from a vital project titled “North East Economic Corridor”.
The project, preparatory workshops for which are slated to be held soon, aims at boosting intra-region (Northeast) connectivity and developing multi-modal transport networks to enhance South Asia-South East Asia connectivity.
The ADB wrote to the Union Commerce & Industry Ministry’s Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade last month outlining the project.
But while six north-eastern states find mention in the project details, Arunachal Pradesh does not.
The exclusion of Arunachal Pradesh by the ADB from its project for the region does not come as any surprise.
It started in June 2009 when China objected to an irrigation project in Arunachal on the ground that the state was “disputed territory”.
The Manila-headquartered ADB had planned to fund a US $60 million watershed project for north-eastern India. The construction of embankments and irrigation canals in Arunachal Pradesh was a component of the comprehensive project.
But China objected to the project. The then foreign minister S M Krishna had said that China’s objection was a violation of the ADB charter, which expressly states that only economic and viability considerations will drive evaluation and funding of projects by the multilateral lending agency.
India had then argued its case before the ADB Executive Directors, who were representatives of the USA, Japan, Australia, Canada, Indonesia, South Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, Germany and Italy.
The impression that India got at that time was that the ADB Board had agreed with India’s position. However, according to leaked cables from the US Embassy in Beijing, China ultimately prevailed (read this report), and the ADB withdrew from the project.
Since then, the ADB has steered clear of funding projects in Arunachal Pradesh. And the latest “North East Economic Corridor” project is also no exception.
In his letter to the Union Ministry, ADB’s country director for India, Takeo Konishi, cited a study (by the Bank) that identified 24 growth centres and 20 border centres in Northeast that can drive the growth of the states in the region.
The study also identified transport, urban development and power as the key infrastructure areas that will act as enablers for the equitable development of the region.
The study also highlights the latent potential of Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Nagaland, Mizoram and Tripura in many sectors and lays down a roadmap for developing them. But there is no mention of Arunachal Pradesh and its latent potential.
The ADB’s preparatory study mentions agriculture, horticulture, tourism and power generation as the key drivers of growth in the region and explores ways to develop these sectors.
Arunachal Pradesh has huge untapped potential in all these sectors, and the state’s exclusion from the ADB project is, thus, without merit.
What India can do about ADB
By late 2009, after it became clear that the ADB had backed off from the project out of fear of antagonising China, the then external affairs minister S M Krishna said that India would accelerate the pace of development, especially infrastructure development, in Arunachal Pradesh using the country’s funds.
The union government initiated a slew of projects, including the 2407 km-long Trans Arunachal Highway connecting the easternmost and westernmost parts of the state. This highway is complete (read this) and has accelerated the development of remote parts of the frontier state.
Work on this project continued at a snail’s pace till it was expedited after the NDA came to power in 2014.
Another major project is the 2000-km-long Arunachal Frontier Highway that will largely follow the McMahon Line, which forms the border between India and Chinese-Occupied Tibet (COT) in the Arunachal sector.
Two more crucial projects — the Arunachal Pradesh East-West Industrial Corridor Highway and the Bhalukpong-Tawang Rail Link — are also languishing, as are some other infrastructure and industrial projects in the frontier state.
Many roads in Arunachal Pradesh are in a terrible state, and roads to even strategically located towns, villages and military posts along the international borders with COT and Myanmar don’t even exist.
In late March this year, the nation witnessed the embarrassing sight of Arunachal Chief Minister Pema Khandu driving an off-road vehicle to Vijaynagar, the headquarters of an administrative circle in Changlang district bordering Myanmar.
It took Khandu, the first Chief Minister to visit Vijaynagar, two days to cover the 157 km on his four-wheel-drive off-roader and even on foot!
“We need to fast-track all physical infrastructure and connectivity projects all over the state. We have identified bottlenecks that have slowed down many of these projects and have taken steps to sort them out,” said Chief Minister Khandu.
For more than six decades since Independence, successive governments in New Delhi followed an inexplicably self-defeating policy of not developing Arunachal Pradesh based on the puerile argument that doing so would facilitate faster Chinese ingress into the state.
That policy was reversed only in recent years. But while India neglected Arunachal Pradesh, China went ahead and developed all areas in COT bordering Arunachal.
Four and six-lane highways, bridges spanning gorges and mountains, airfields and even modern townships with 24x7 power and all amenities have been developed in COT, especially the areas along the McMahon Line.
Arunachal fares poorly in terms of infrastructure when compared to areas just on the other side of the McMahon Line. There is, thus, a lot of catching up to do on this side of the border.
The state has also submitted many projects like constructing small bridges and feeder roads to link remote habitats. The union government must accord fast-track approval for these and also construct airports and helipads to ensure that no part of Arunachal remains cut off from the rest of the region.
Accelerating the pace of infrastructure and socio-economic development of the frontier state and matching it with that on the other side of the border would be the best reply, and snub, to the ADB and China.
And also, to drive home a strong point, invite Dalai Lama to the inauguration of at least one of these major projects to bless it. The new President of the Tibetan government-in-exile, Penpa Tsering, should also be invited to participate in the inaugural ceremonies.
The resultant rants from Beijing will be India’s sweet revenge.
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