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Dr. Manmohan Singh’s Message on Arunachal Pradesh

Dr. M. Amarjeet Singh is Assistant Professor of Conflict Resolution, School of Social Sciences, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Indian Institute of Science Campus, Banglore, India. Prior to this he was Research Assistant at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
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  • March 04, 2008

    Apart from launching several new development initiatives, Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh’s recent visit to Arunachal Pradesh served as a big boost to the morale of the Arunachalis, whose territory China repeatedly claims.

    Arunachal Pradesh has a traditional and underdeveloped economy and lags behind the national average in most components of infrastructure. With a population of about 10.98 lakhs (Census 2001), its literacy rate of 54.3 per cent falls below the national average and is also the lowest in the entire Northeast. Its per capita income of Rs. 19566 (2003-04) at constant (1993-94) prices is much below the national average. Road transport, the only means of communication in the state, is abysmal. Several district headquarters are yet to be connected by road, forcing people to travel through neighbouring Assam. As many as 34 of the state’s 157 administrative centres and 2453 of its 3860 villages are yet to be connected by road. It has a road density of just 18.65 km per 100 sq. km, as against the national average of 84 km. In comparison, Assam’s road density is 87.22, Manipur’s is 48.99, and Meghalaya’s 37.8. Arunachal also fairs poorly in health care facilities.

    “The sun kisses India first in Arunachal Pradesh. It is our land of the rising sun… It is my sincere hope that like the sun, Arunachal Pradesh will also rise from the east as a new star and become one of the best regions of our country,” Dr. Singh said while addressing a public meeting at Itanagar on January 31, the first day of his two-day visit to the state. In this context, Dr. Singh identified four priority areas of concern for ensuring rapid development of the state: (a) connectivity (through roads, railways and airports); (b) infrastructure (roads, power and drinking water); (c) educational and healthcare facilities; and (d) economic development (tourism, food processing, and large scale power projects).

    Keeping these priority areas in mind, Dr. Singh announced a number of development projects for the state. The most prominent among them was the 1,840 kilometre Trans-Arunachal Pradesh two-lane highway from Tawang to Mahadevpur. The cost of this project is estimated to be about Rs. 5,500 crore. This is a flagship highway and one of the most important road projects to be taken up by the Manmohan Singh-led United Progressive Alliance government. Once completed, it is expected to contribute immensely to the state’s economic development. Besides, other projects announced by Dr. Singh include: a Rs. 550 crore programme to bring power to every home with non-conventional energy; a Rs. 400 crore flood relief package; and a Rs. 245 crore railway project connecting Harmoti in Assam and Itanagar. The rail link from Harmoti to Itanagar will reduce travel time to destinations outside the state and provide better access.

    With an estimated potential of over 30,000 MW, Arunachal Pradesh ranks first in the country in terms of hydroelectric power potential. Nevertheless, this potential has remained untapped. Keeping this mind, Dr. Singh laid the foundation for the 3,000-MW Dibang Multipurpose Power Project (the country’s biggest hydel project), and the 110-MW Pare Power Project. The Dibang power project is expected to generate revenue of as much as Rs. 300 crores annually to the state. The cost of the project as estimated in November 2007 was about Rs. 16,425 crores. Further, the prime minister also laid the foundation for various other projects including a secretariat building in Itanagar; and water supply projects for Itanagar and Naharlagun.

    Dr. Singh’s reference to Arunachal as “our land of the rising sun” seems to have been intended to send a loud and clear message to China that the state is an indispensable part of India. This message has also come as a boost to Arunachalis anxious about repeated Chinese claims over their land. The subsequent announcement of daily helicopter services between Guwahati in Assam and Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh also carries significance given Chinese claims on and interest in acquiring Tawang in particular. In fact, it is the Chinese claim over Tawang that has been to a great extent holding up the resolution of the Sino-Indian boundary dispute.

    The Prime Minister’s announcement of several new development initiatives also underscores India’s bid to match similar developments across Arunachal’s 1030 kilometre border with China. There are as many as 1447 extremely backward villages situated along the state’s 1680 km long border with China, Myanmar and Bhutan. The backwardness of these border areas becomes even more distinct when compared with the rapid pace of development in Tibet on the other side of the Sino-Indian border.

    Seeking to boost the morale of soldiers braving hostile weather conditions in the inhospitable terrain of the state, Dr. Singh lauded their efforts in guarding the border as well as fighting insurgency and terrorism. He also assured them that the air infrastructure in the state would be upgraded.

    Dr. Singh’s initiatives are indeed encouraging because despite being one of India's most strategically located frontiers, Arunachal Pradesh is a rather poorly developed state. Being the least densely populated (13 persons per sq. km.) Indian state and surrounded as it is by three countries, Arunachal Pradesh indeed needs special attention.

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