Ministerial group headed by finance minister on developing North-East is expected to meet soon
New Delhi, Aug 28 : Prodded into action by recent Chinese incursions into the North-East, New Delhi is stepping up efforts to develop infrastructure in a region it has traditionally ignored—and about time too, said a strategic analyst.
The committee of secretaries (CoS), which until six months ago had not met since November 2011, has met twice since. And in July, the government created a ministerial group headed by finance minister P. Chidambaram on developing the North-East. It, too, is expected to meet soon.
India and China faced off for 21 days in April over an incursion by Chinese troops into Indian territory. The two countries are yet to resolve a long-standing border dispute.
“After a long hiatus, there has been a spate of meetings of the CoS and issues are being taken,” said a government official requesting anonymity. The secretaries in CoS include those from the departments of telecom, railways, defence, home, power, water resources, finance and the Planning Commission.
Another government official familiar with the plans to expedite the creation of critical infrastructure in the region said, “While the CoS didn’t meet in the last two years since November 2011, it met on 26 February 2013 and 26 July 2013. This shows our sense of urgency given our concerns with our neighbour.”
Former naval officer C. Uday Bhaskar, a fellow at New Delhi-based Society for Policy Studies, responded: “We have seen this pattern of episodic interest, whenever there have been exigencies. The ability of the collective Indian state to act in a sustained and collective manner is dwindling. The system has become an octopus with its many tentacles.”
Some of the important projects planned for the region include the 670km East-West corridor, connecting state capitals with a broad gauge railway network, developing air transportation infrastructure such as a greenfield airport in Itanagar, and inland waterway development.
The development of infrastructure in the North-East is also key to the nation’s so-called Look East policy—a focus on South-East Asia.
“If India has to integrate with the Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a 10-nation grouping), it is critical to develop infrastructure in the North-East. An effective Look East policy can only work in the backdrop of effective connectivity,” Bhaskar said.
Increasing connectivity in the region and linking it with Myanmar will help India access South-East Asian markets.
China claims 90,000 sq. km of Indian territory in Arunachal Pradesh and occupies around 38,000 sq. km in Jammu and Kashmir that India claims. And under a China-Pakistan boundary agreement signed in March 1963, Pakistan illegally ceded 5,180 sq. km of Indian territory in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir to China.
India and China have also sparred over hydropower projects in Arunachal Pradesh, the state that borders China and has the highest potential for hydropower generation in India. With China planning to divert water from rivers that flow into the Brahmaputra to the arid zones of Xinjiang and Gansu, India is worried about the slow pace of work on hydropower projects awarded in Arunachal Pradesh.
Any delay in executing hydropower projects in the region, particularly on rivers originating in China, will affect India’s strategy of establishing prior-use claim. Under international law, a country’s right over natural resources it shares with other nations becomes stronger if it is already putting them to use.
The ministries of water resources and power have already expressed their reservations over Beijing’s ambitious water diversion scheme, into which it is pouring $62 billion (around Rs.4 trillion today). China is building a number of projects on rivers upstream of the Brahmaputra.
New Delhi has decided to fast-track environmental clearances for hydropower projects in Arunachal Pradesh. But projects totalling 13,522 megawatts (MW) in this strategically important state are awaiting environmental clearance, even though they have been given the go-ahead by the Central Electricity Authority, the country’s apex power sector planning body.
The forest advisory committee has rejected forest land diversion plans for the 3,000MW Dibang multi-purpose project in Arunachal Pradesh and forest clearance to the 1,500MW Tipaimukh hydroelectric project in Manipur.