(TibetanReview.net, Feb16’23) – Prime Minister Narendra Modi has decided to raise seven more Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) battalions, launch a vibrant border villages scheme and clear a Ladakh-Himachal Pradesh Shinkun La tunnel in what is seen as a three-pronged move to steel India’s defence along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and counter Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Fortress Tibet policy, reported the hindustantimes.com Feb 16.
The report called Modi’s decision an answer to the three-tier border security organized by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of the Communist Party of China in the western theatre command in the occupied territories of Tibet and Xinjiang.
The report noted that just as China had come up with border villages with border guards, district police and PLA reserve in the depth areas, the decision to raise seven battalions of ITBP (8400 men approx..) meant that India will also have a three-tier arrangement on the LAC like the LoC with Pakistan with BSF forming the front line.
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As part of “one border one force” policy, the 3488-km LAC will now have some 56 battalions deployed against China as the frontier force backed by local Indian Army formations and then the Army reserve. This means barring eight ITBP battalions deployed in anti-Naxal duties in the Maoist insurgency-hit states and as part of the force rotational drill, the border force will purely focus on the LAC as this is the basic purpose for which the mountain force was raised in the first place.
The ITBP is a specialized mountain force deployed in border states on heights more than 12000 feet and in sub-zero temperatures. And since the recruitment of the additional battalions will be done from all over India including border states of Uttarakhand, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and the Union Territory (UT) of Ladakh, this will give local youth incentive to stay put in their villages rather than move to big cities in search of jobs.
The report said the newly raised battalions will be responsible for 47 border posts, with one in Ladakh, another in Uttarakhand and the remaining in the sensitive Arunachal Pradesh sector. A sector headquarter will be established in Arunachal Pradesh headed by a DIG rank officer and new staging-camps will be established at rarefied heights to provide food, oil, arms and ammunition to the manned border posts.
ITBP, which currently has a sanctioned strength of 88,430 personnel, secures 3,488 km-long India-occupied Tibet borders ranging from the Karakoram Pass in Ladakh to Jachep La in Arunachal Pradesh, noted the timesofindia.com Feb 16.
With the raising of 7 additional battalions comprising more than 10% of its existing strength, ITBP will become the fourth largest central para-military force in the country with 63 battalions comprising 97,830 personnel, pushing Sashastra Seema Bal to the fifth position, the report said.
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Apart from raising the new ITBP battalions, India will spend a total of ₹4,800 crore on a Vibrant Village Programme (VVP), of which nearly ₹2,500 crore will go into providing last-mile connectivity to the border villages so that the youth get gainful employment through tourism and trade. This decision of PM Modi is pathbreaking as national security planners found that youth were leaving the border villages and coming to cities for employment as a result of which the first line of LAC defence was weakened, the report said.
The Cabinet’s nod to the Vibrant Villages Programme (VVP) is aimed at comprehensive development of 2,966 border villages spread over 19 districts and 46 border blocks of four states – Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim – and the UT of Ladakh between 2022-23 and 2025-26, said the timesofindia.com report.
The report said the first phase of VVP will cover 663 villages and aim to identify and develop the economic drivers based on local natural, human and other resources of the villages and development of growth centres on “hub and spoke model” through social entrepreneurship, skill development, leveraging the tourism potential and development of sustainable eco-agribusinesses on the concept of “one village-one-product” through community based organizations, cooperatives, self-help groups and NGOs, etc. The plans will be created by the district administration with the help of gram panchayats.
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The hindustantimes.com report further said that the third decision which will bolster the border defence of both the LAC with Chinese occupied Tibet and the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) with Pakistan in Siachen Glacier and beyond was the decision to build an all-weather connectivity axis from Himachal Pradesh to Ladakh via Manali-Atal Tunnel-Darcha-Shinkun La tunnel-Padum-Nimu axis. This road and tunnel flanked by Zanskar on the west and Himalayas on the east, it was noted, could not be targeted by enemy artillery or rockets and will become the main feeder route for the Indian Army to deploy on both frontiers.
The next step for the government would be to clear the 12-kilometre tunnel under Saser La in Sub-Sector North to get alternate road connectivity to Daulet Beg Oldi if the existing Darbuk-Shyok-DBO road comes under fire from the PLA in the worst-case scenario.
The new tunnels at Se La, Nechiphu, both in Tawang sector, and the sanctioned ones in Ladakh sector will not only project dominance of the Indian Army but also allow faster counter deployment in the worst-case scenario. Prime Minister Modi’s decisions are a sea change from the past century when border roads were not encouraged lest the Chinese Army walks in. The decision to improve border road infrastructure was taken by the Atal Behari Vajpayee government despite reservations from the Indian Army, the report said.