While other states in the region are receiving their fair share of projects, Arunachal Pradesh remains a priority for the Modi government because of its strategic location.
Arunachal Pradesh is undergoing a fast-paced transformation that is dramatically changing the face of the Himalayan state which shares borders with Tibet to its north and Myanmar to its east.
A slew of infrastructure projects ranging from construction of highways, rail lines and airports in the state will position Arunachal Pradesh as one of the most well-connected in the entire country.
All this is happening due to the firm focus on the North East by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Centre.
Immediately after coming to power in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi identified North East as a priority region for development.
While other states of the region have received their share of projects and are undergoing a transformation not witnessed since Independence, Arunachal Pradesh remains a priority for the Modi government because of its strategic location.
The latest development initiative for Arunachal Pradesh came last week with Road Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari announcing highway projects worth Rs 44,000 crore for the state. All these proposed highways hold immense strategic importance.
Gadkari, who was in Guwahati last week, announced major road construction projects worth a whopping Rs 1.3 lakh crore for all the states of the region. Arunachal Pradesh got the lion’s share.
A number of new highways have already come up in Arunachal Pradesh, which has also been included in the railway map of the country.
A new greenfield airport at Hollongi near state capital Itanagar is awaiting inauguration, while two other airports at Tezu and Pasighat have been made operational with daily commercial flights.
Seven more advanced landing grounds (ALGs) — Aalo, Daporijo, Menchuka, Tawang, Tuting, Vijaynagar and Walong — from where defence helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft operate now are being upgraded to allow commercial flights to land.
Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia and Chief Minister Pema Khandu jointly flagged off the first flight operated on ‘Made In India’ Dornier Do-228 aircraft from Pasighat in April this year.
Alliance Air, a PSU, will start operating flights to Ziro, Menchuka, Tuting and Vijaynagar in the next few months. Scindia has promised the opening of three more airports in the state at Dirang in West Kameng district, Anini in Dibang Valley and another in Upper Subansiri district.
The state government is keen to develop some additional heliports in the remote parts of the state to make them accessible. Many of these places can be developed as tourist hotspots and, consequently, spur the local economy.
New Rail Lines
Arunachal Pradesh came on the railway map of the country a long 67 years after Independence in April 2014. Since then, the Modi government has commissioned three rail lines: from Bhalukpong to Tawang (378 kilometres), North Lakhimpur-Bame-Alo-Silapathar (248 kms) and Pasighat-Tezu-Parashuram Kund-Rupai (217 kms).
According to Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) officials, work on these three lines is progressing fast and they will be operational in a few years.
Surveys are underway for more railway lines that connect strategically located places.
Among these lines are the Lekhapani to Deban via Nampong (75 km); Dumduma to Wakro (96 km) via Simulguri, Namsai and Chowkham; Dangri to Roing (60 km); Tinsukia to Pasighat (300 km) via Kanubari, Deomali, Lekhapani, Jairampur, Kharsang, Miao, Diyu, Tezu, Bhismaknagar, Roing and Dambuk; Dhalai Beel to Seijosa via Itakhola (18 km); Naharkatia to Deomali (20 km); and Lekhapani and Kharsang (26.2 km).
Roads And Highways
But it is in the road sector that Arunachal Pradesh is making the most dramatic strides.
While a number of state highways and secondary and tertiary roads have already been built, work is going on at a hectic phase to complete the 2,407-km-long Trans-Arunachal Highway, the 967-km-long East-West Corridor and the 2,000-km-long Arunachal Frontier Highway.
More than 60 per cent of the Trans-Arunachal Highway (see map here), which runs from the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Tawang (western Arunachal Pradesh) to Kanubari on the Assam-Nagaland-Arunachal Pradesh in the south-eastern corner of the state, has been completed.
The remaining portions are scheduled to be completed by 2024.
The Trans-Arunachal Highway passes through the entire length of the state and covers 16 districts, divides the state into roughly two parts — the upper two-third in the north and east and the lower one-third to its south.
This highway starts from India’s northernmost military post (north of Hathung La Ridge) in Tawang district, goes via Zemithang, Tawang, Bomdila, Nechipu, Seppa, Sagalee, Yupia, Yazali, Ziro, Daporijo, Aalo, Pasighat, the southern part of Dibang Valley district, Lohit, Roing, Tezu, Mahadevpur, Bordumsa, Namchik, Changlang, Khonsa, Longding, and ends at Kanubari.
Further north of this highway is the proposed Arunachal Frontier Highway that will run along the LAC between India and Chinese-occupied Tibet.
This high-altitude highway will originate in Mago-Thingbu in Tawang district and traverse along the McMahon Line through West Kameng, East Kameng and Upper Subansiri districts, Mechuka in West Siang district, Tuting in Upper Siang district, Dibang Valley district, Desali in Lower Dibang Valley district, Chaglagam, Kibithu, Dong and Hawai all in Anjaw district, and terminate Vijaynagar in Changlang district at the junction of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Nagaland and Myanmar (here’s the map of the proposed highway).
A 100-km-long western spur of this highway from Tawang to Yongphulla Airport in Bhutan (upgraded by India and jointly used by the Indian Army and Bhutan Army) in eastern Bhutan via Lumla-Yabab in India and Trashigang in Bhutan will also be constructed.
The third ambitious highway project is the East-West Industrial Corridor across the foothills of Arunachal Pradesh and running roughly along the Arunachal Pradesh-Assam interstate border from Bhairabkunda in Assam at the trijunction of Bhutan–Assam-Arunachal Pradesh in the west to Kanubari tri-junction of Nagaland-Assam-Arunachal Pradesh in east.
Of the Rs 44,000 crore that was sanctioned for highway projects in Arunachal Pradesh last week, Rs 27,349 crore is earmarked for two-laning of the Frontier Highway.
An amount of Rs 15,720 crore has been allocated for two-laning the interconnectivity corridors (connecting the three major highways — Frontier Highway, the Trans-Arunachal Highway and the East-West Corridor).
These corridors are being constructed in Pakke-Kesang, East Kameng, Longding, Changlang, Upper Siang, Upper Subansiri, Tawang, East Siang and West Siang districts.
Another Rs 915 crore (of the Rs 44,000 crore) has been earmarked for two-laning the 61-km-long Brahmakund to Chokham Road.
Arunachal Pradesh also signed an MoU last week with National Highways Logistics Management Ltd (NHLML), a special purpose vehicle (SPV) of the National Highways Authority of India, for infrastructure development in the state.
The NHLML has been tasked with implementing the Union Government’s ‘Parvat Mala’ project to construct ropeways in hilly areas to connect inaccessible areas, decongest urban areas and boost tourism.
The NHLML, which is the designated implementing agency of the ‘Parvat Mala’ project that was announced in the 2022-2023 budget, will conduct surveys and then construct, operate and maintain ropeways across Arunachal Pradesh.
Arunachal Chief Minister Khandu said that by 2024, many of the road, rail and air connectivity projects will be complete and by 2025, Arunachal Pradesh will have one of the best and most extensive road networks in the country.
“All this has been made possible due to the focus on the Northeast, especially Arunachal Pradesh, by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Modi had termed the eight Northeastern states as Ashta-Lakshmi and accorded top priority to the states. A new scheme — the Prime Minister’s Development Initiative for North East Region (PM-DevINE) for the remaining four years of the Fifteenth Finance Commission from 2022-23 to 2025-26 — approved last month will be a boon for the region,” Khandu told Swarajya.
Khandu said that the Union government has instituted robust monitoring mechanisms for overseeing the implementation of various infrastructure and also social welfare projects.
This mechanism is helping all the states implement centrally-funded and aided projects in a time-bound manner.
The Earlier Neglect Of Arunachal Pradesh
For nearly seven decades since Independence, Arunachal Pradesh remained grossly neglected and underdeveloped.
Successive Congress regimes at the Centre followed the inexplicable and strange policy of keeping the state undeveloped since the 1962 war with China.
The preposterous rationale of successive federal governments was that developing Arunachal Pradesh and providing good roads and other infrastructure to the state would, in case of another war with China, help the enemy forces make rapid advances through the state to Assam.
The logic was that if Arunachal Pradesh had good roads till the border, Chinese forces would find it easy to make quick advances through these roads till Assam.
Thus, the weird rationale went, poor or non-existent roads would slow down a Chinese advance in case of a repeat of 1962 (when Chinese troops came close to the Assam border before retreating on their own).
This policy was overturned when the NDA first came to power under Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s prime ministership. But it was Prime Minister Modi who took it forward and decided to sanction a lot of infrastructure projects in the state.
“The earlier policy was downright foolish and damaging. It made no sense at all. From a strategic point of view, it makes eminent sense to have excellent roads and even rail lines till a border, especially with an adversary, as that will facilitate quick movement of troops and military hardware to the frontlines in times of emergency. This basic realisation never dawned on the rulers of the past,” said S K Mittal, a former IAS officer who had long stints in various key Union ministries.
“The neglect of the past 67 years has to be rectified and we have to make up for lost time. We have to achieve in 15 to 20 years what had not been done in 67 years,” said Khandu.
The exceptionally poor road network that existed in Arunachal Pradesh can be judged from the fact that in 2015, even Delhi had a much higher road density than the Northeastern state. While Delhi’s total area is 1,483 square kms that of Arunachal Pradesh is 83,743 square kms.
Thus, a state more than 56 times the size of Delhi had a road network much less than that of Delhi.
Even within the North East, Arunachal Pradesh’s road density was much less than that of other states.
Assam, which is smaller in size than Arunachal (Assam’s total landmass is 78,438 sq kms), had a road network totalling 377,777 kms in 2017.
Arunachal Pradesh had a measly 37,025 kms. That is, Arunachal’s total road length was only 10 per cent of that of Assam.
The Triple Benefits Of These Infrastructure Projects
- All these projects — new highways, bridges, airports and railway lines — hold immense strategic importance.
- Roads, and rail and air connectivity will boost the state’s economy and usher in industrial development. Tourism will also get a boost, thus benefiting local people.
- Good infrastructure, and the resultant economic growth, will especially benefit people living in the remote areas along the McMahon line and stem their migration away from those areas.
These local communities act as the eyes and ears of the security forces and the government, and play a crucial role in surveillance on the adversary on the other side of the border.
Hence, keeping the border areas well-populated and facilitating the flow of tourists to those areas through easy access is strategically important.