Union Home Minister Amit Shah will India’s ambitious ‘Vibrant Village Programme’ (VVP) at Kibithoo (see ) in Arunachal Pradesh’s eastern Anjaw district Monday (10 April).
The VVP is India’s response to the 628 model ‘xiaokang’ (moderately well-off) villages built by China along the LAC in China-occupied Tibet (CoT).
China started building these villages, which have a dual civilian-military use, in 2017 and completed them in 2021 at a cost of a whopping Rs 3.76 lakh crore.
India has identified 2,967 villages in 19 border districts of Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh that will be developed under the VVP.
In the first phase of this project stretching over three financial years from 2023-2024 to 2025-2026, 662 villages will be developed. Of them, 455 are in Arunachal Pradesh.
Amit Shah will take a chopper to Kibithoo, which is eleven kilometres south of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and 40 kilometres west of the tri-junction between India, Myanmar and CoT.
Kibithoo, one of the remotest circle headquarters of Arunachal Pradesh, was overrun by Chinese troops in the first phase (20 to 28 October) of the 1962 Indo-China border war.
The ‘Vibrant Village Programme’:
Under the VVP, the selected villages will be connected by all-weather roads and provided potable piped water, 24x7 electricity (including solar and wind energy), good mobile and internet connectivity, healthcare and enhanced livelihood options.
The overall objective is to not only stem migration from these remote habitats to urban areas by the villagers in search of a better livelihood, but also to catalyse reverse migration.
According to Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu, the primary reason behind the migration from these remote villages is the lack of livelihood opportunities there.
“The lack of proper infrastructure, healthcare and education facilities also leads to migration away from those villages,” he told Swarajya.
But, says GOC-in-C, Eastern Command, Lt. Gen. R P Kalita, it is very important from the strategic and security point of view to keep all villages along the LAC well populated.
“This is why China has built those model villages along the LAC. We need to incentivise the residents of villages on our side of the LAC to remain there, and for that to happen we need to provide all modern facilities and good livelihood opportunities to them,” the eastern army commander told Swarajya.
A number of livelihood programmes have been dovetailed into the VVP. These include bee-keeping, improving agricultural yields, encouraging handicrafts and local products, and providing market linkages to them.
Another important component of the livelihood-enhancing programme is promoting high-end tourism and training local people to cater to tourists.
“We will provide loans and grants to local people to start homestays aimed at the mid to high-end tourists, and give them proper training to run these facilities efficiently. Promotion of glamping in and around Kibithoo is also on the cards,” said Chief Minister Khandu.
Another vital component of the programme is provision of 24x7 power to these remote habitats.
“If it is not possible to provide power from the state grid due to the remoteness and terrain, we will construct micro-hydel power plants that generate between five and hundred kilowatts of electricity. We will also set up solar power panels and windmills to generate electricity,” said Khandu.
Arunachal Pradesh Deputy Chief Minister Chowna Mein told Swarajya that Kibithoo will get modern healthcare and education facilities within a year.
“A lot of employment avenues will open up. We are drawing up a plan to provide training in computers and electronics to local boys and girls for free. Artisans will also be provided training through specialised institutions to upgrade their skills so that they can roll out world-class products. The government will provide market linkages for their products,” the deputy CM said.
Chowna Mein said that Kibithoo, located at an elevation of 4,281 feet on the right bank of the perennial Lohit river, has huge potential for horticulture and floriculture.
The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and other such institutions are being roped in to develop these sectors. Free training and modern inputs will be provided to the farmers of Kibithoo and, once again, good market linkages will be facilitated to ensure they earn good returns for their produce.
Kibithoo’s current population is less than 2,000 and most of the 320 households have two or more members living in urban centres of the state or the rest of the country.
The goal is to get at least some of Kibthoo’s sons and daughters to return to their native village within a couple of years.
“Under the VVP, the quality of living in the border villages will improve drastically and so will livelihood opportunities and earnings of the people. That will trigger a reverse migration,” said Chief Minister Khandu.
Lt Gen Kalita explained: “The people of these border villages are our (the army’s) eyes and ears. The existence of well-populated villages on our side of the LAC provides an effective counter to China’s sinister expansionist tactics, especially its . China cannot lay claim very easily to populated areas.”
While Kibithoo will be the first village to be developed under the VVP, a similar experiment (albeit on a smaller scale) started a year ago by the Indian Army at Kaho, a little over two kilometres north of Kibithoo, has yielded promising results (watch ).
The Arunachal Pradesh government, along with the (MDoner) and various Union ministries and the Indian Army, had also framed a similar action plan to develop border villages in the state.
Damin, a small village which is the last Indian habitation on this side of the LAC in the state’s Kurung Kumey district, has witnessed vast changes under this initiative (read all about it ).
Damin and some other remote villages near the LAC in the district have already started witnessing reverse migration. People who had left their native villages in search of better opportunities have started returning.
Why India’s Model Is Better Than China’s:
India’s VVP scores over China’s building of new ‘xiaokang’ villages.
China’s original plan was to encourage poor Han Chinese from the mainland to settle down in these villages. But these villages are too far away for the mainland Chinese, who are not used to the harsh geographical and climatic conditions in the Himalayan heights along the LAC.
Beijing wanted the mainland Han Chinese to settle down in these villages also to counter the hostility of the local Tibetans, who look upon the Chinese as ‘brutal occupiers’
But since its original plan did not succeed, Beijing was forced to encourage the few Tibetans whose loyalties it has managed to purchase through favours and doles to settle down in those villages.
But China has had to put in place elaborate surveillance measures to keep a watch on its Tibetan subjects in the ‘xiaokang’ villages since it cannot fully trust them.
Thus, the basic purpose of using the civilian residents of these villages to keep a watch on activities across the LAC and on Indian Army patrols has been negated.
China’s ‘xiaokang’ villages have houses with all modern amenities, but not the occupants for which they were built.
Also, little thought seems to have gone into the project conceived by dogmatic Chinese Communist Party (CCP) apparatchiks. Even if Han Chinese from the mainland would have migrated and settled in those remote villages, they would not have been able to earn a proper livelihood.
Beijing not only overlooked the vital aspect of providing livelihood opportunities, but also building primary healthcare centres and schools in the ‘xiaokang’ villages.
Beijing also wanted tourists from the mainland to visit these villages and stay there. But that objective has also failed because the villages are too remote and inhospitable for Han Chinese tourists from the mainland.
Most of the villages across the LAC now serve as residential quarters and logistical facilities for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). And that has been a colossal waste of money for Beijing.
India’s VVP model, on the other hand, has the local population of tribals — Meyors and Zakhrings in the case of Kibithoo — as the primary stake-holders. It is a people-centric programme aimed at enhancing the quality of life of the locals.
Having the local population to serve as the Indian Army’s eyes and ears is only an intended tertiary benefit of the VVP. The primary one is providing a good quality of life with enhanced earnings and access to modern facilities to the locals.
That is why India’s humane and altruistic VVP scores over China’s autocratic model.
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