In the last few years, China has been blatantly displaying its territorial hegemony by stepping up construction activity along the Himalayan frontier, sparking major security concerns in India. Construction of bases, including new dual-use airports, has also gathered pace ever since the bloody standoff in eastern Ladakh in May 2020. Against this backdrop, the union cabinet’s nod for the Rs 4,800 crore ‘Vibrant Villages’ programme, covering the border areas of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Ladakh, is a welcome move to counter Chinese aggression. Designed to develop over 600 border villages and growth centres through promotion of social entrepreneurship, empowerment of youths and women through skill development and entrepreneurship, the scheme is a long-overdue measure to improve livelihood opportunities for the people in the region.
The approval for a 4.1-km tunnel on the Nimu-Padam-Darcha road link to provide all-weather connectivity to the border areas of Ladakh is also significant from a security point of view. In addition to this, the government will spend Rs 1,800 crore to raise seven new battalions of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) – 9,000 personnel- chiefly deployed along India’s borders with China alongside the army. There has been a long-pending demand from the residents of Ladakh’s border villages for better facilities – more 4G telecommunication towers, better roads, schools with adequate facilities, 24/7 electricity – to match those that exist in the settlements across the LAC. The no-holds-barred infrastructure push by Beijing is forcing India to react. Since the Galwan valley clash, China has been busy establishing new settlements or augmenting facilities in the existing ones.
For India, it is a long way to go if it has to catch up with China on border infrastructure. The Vibrant Villages scheme will cater to underdeveloped villages with sparse populations and limited connectivity, located along the border with China. The attempted Chinese incursion in the Tawang sector in Arunachal last December has once again highlighted the urgency for augmenting the border infrastructure.