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Budget 2022: India to have ‘vibrant’ border villages to counter China’s territorial claims

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In a major push to develop and improve connectivity in border areas, villages along the northern border will see development under the new Vibrant Villages Programme, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced on Tuesday.

The move comes against the backdrop of China’s setting up of “model villages” close to the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

“Border villages with sparse population, limited connectivity and infrastructure often get left out from the development gains. Such villages on the northern border will be covered under the new Vibrant Villages Programme,” Sitharaman said in her Budget speech.

“The activities will include construction of village infrastructure, housing, tourist centres, road connectivity, provisioning of decentralised renewable energy, direct to home access for Doordarshan and educational channels, and support for livelihood generation,” she added.

She further said that additional funding will be provided for these activities. “Existing schemes will be converged. We will define their outcomes and constantly monitor them.”

The home ministry’s allocation for border management has increased by nearly 43 per cent, from Rs 1921.39 crore to Rs 2517.02 crore. A portion of the increased amount is expected to be spent on the vibrant village programme.

What has China been up to?

The Indian Army has been closely monitoring the development of these “model” villages over the last few years.

Officials say the Chinese army is building integrated model villages that are extensions of cantonments near the Line of Actual Control to ensure that military and civilian populations coexist at the border.

There has been a significant increase in the development of such villages in Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim’s eastern sector in recent years. Many villages have sprung up. However, there are few takers, and they are largely isolated, with no planned migration from the mainland.

Chinese villages remain deserted, turning into military facilities

Sources say that since these villages have a negligible civilian population, it is clear that they are being used as military facilities.

They include multi-story buildings as well as sports and recreational facilities in what were once showcased as civilian residential complexes but are now deserted and being converted into military facilities.

There were plans to build hotels near the integrated villages, which are under Chinese army surveillance.

These villages are intended to house tribal and nomadic populations on the Chinese side, but this has not occurred in the majority of these sites, which are well connected by newly constructed four-lane roads.

The structures in the villages have observation towers and resemble military camps rather than residential complexes. The residential facilities can also be used to accommodate an enhanced troop deployment on short notice.

The US Department of Defence, in its report last year, said, “Military and Security Developments involving the People’s Republic of China [PRC], also touched upon the subject, stating that China has taken ‘incremental and tactical actions to press its claims at the LAC’ amid the ongoing diplomatic and military dialogues to reduce border tensions.”

“Sometime in 2020, the PRC built a large 100-home civilian village inside disputed territory between the PRC’s Tibet Autonomous Region and India’s Arunachal Pradesh state in the eastern sector of the LAC. These and other infrastructure development efforts along the India-China corridor have been a source of consternation for the Indian government and media,” the report said.

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