PRANAB KUMAR DAS
Tezpur, Oct 24 : A signboard put up today at Bhalukpong inner-line permit checkgate in Arunachal Pradesh warns: People are advised to avoid travel in the area after sunset.
The state police warning to commuters against travelling inside the frontier state from Bhalukpong ILP checkpost after sunset follows the abduction of a senior NHPC official from near the area last month.
Officer-in-charge of Bhalukpong police station, Mipak Riba, told The Telegraph over phone, “We are taking all kinds of preventive security measures. The warning to commuters is part of this measure.”
Arunachal Pradesh director-general of police K.K. Maheswari said the steps were necessitated given the threats posed by militants from the Bodo community.
The Songbijit faction of NDFB had kidnapped Anil Agarwal, a general manager of the 600MW National Hydroelectric Power Corporation’s Tawang Chu-I project, from 12 Mile under Charduar police station in Assam’s Sonitpur district on September 21. The site is 6km from Bhalukpong.
In 2010, NDFB militants had abducted Indian Forest Service official of the Maharashtra cadre V.S. Bardekar, who is also a butterfly expert, from Boimara, 120km from Bhalukpong police station. He was released after three months of negotiations.
“But it will be wrong to say that only the kidnapping case forced us to take this step. There have been law and order issues in the area from before,” Maheswari added.
Riba said some businessmen in Bhalukpong have been receiving extortions calls from militant groups and had been advised not to take calls from unknown numbers.
Apart from general commuters, for whom the stretch on National Highway 229 is the only one to either enter or leave the western part of the frontier state, the move is set to impact tourists travelling to Tawang, which houses Asia’s second largest monastery, and is one of the most sought-after destinations on the country’s tourism map.
According to official reports, Tawang had received 21,325 domestic and 273 foreign tourists in 2012. But this year, 1,861 domestic and 152 foreign tourists visited the district in May while 698 domestic and 63 foreign tourists visited it in June.
Jiban Das from Tezpur, who drives a tourist taxi, said, “The move will greatly affect us. It takes 15 hours to reach Tezpur from Tawang. We cannot reach before sunset. It will be a big loss in manhours and money. Travelling to and from Bhalukpong will become very expensive.”
Mausam Pratim Dutta, a businessman, said, “I am shocked. What will happen to people if they have medical emergencies? Does this mean the government is not equipped to provide security? The move will only embolden militants.”
Rituraj Gayan, a contractor who is a regular commuter on the Charduar-Bhalukpong road, said he would have to rework his schedule. “I will have to try to complete my work before 4pm.”
Bhalukpong in West Kameng district is about 228km from the Arunachal Pradesh capital, Itanagar, 283km from Tawang and 240km from the Assam capital, Guwahati.
The Bhalukpong circle area has a population of around 4,000 on the Arunachal side, mostly indigenous people who are dependent on agriculture. More than 400 vehicles, big and small, excluding army and police vehicles, ply on this stretch of the national highway from Bhalukpong to various locations to and from Arunachal Pradesh.
Arunachal Pradesh IGP Satyendra Garg told The Telegraph from Itanagar that the warning was a precautionary measure and not a ban on travelling after sunset. “The presence of police force is less in the areas so it is not exactly safe to travel on the stretch after sunset. However, we will not stop anybody who wants to travel after sunset. The precautionary measure will continue till the law and order situation improves in the area.”
He also said they were in constant touch with their Assam counterparts over the kidnapping case and were doing whatever was required for Agarwal’s release.
Sonitpur superintendent of police Arabinda Kalita, however, said, “We have not taken this type of measure as tourists are regular travellers on this stretch.”
Official sources said work on alternative roads, which would allow commuters in Arunachal Pradesh to avoid Bhalukpong, was in full swing and were expected to be complete by December this year.