Road link along LAC can boost trade

India’s announcement of a 1,800-km-long road to be built along the McMahon Line from Mago-Thingbu in Tawang district to Vijaynagar in Changlang district of Arunachal Pradesh has ruffled feathers in Beijing.

 

China has accused India of complicating further the situation along the disputed border.  Beijing rejects the McMahon Line as ‘illegal’ and ‘imperialist’ and refuses to accept it as the basis of boundary negotiations with India. It lays claim to around 90,000 sq km of land in India’s Northeast roughly approximating with Arunachal Pradesh. Consequently, any infrastructure building activity in this state triggers objections from Beijing.

Anxious to avoid angering China, India kept away from building roads or even repairing the existing ones along the Line of Actual Control. Consequently, infrastructure on the Indian side of the LAC is in a shambles. China’s objections to India’s construction activity along the LAC would have had some merit if it practiced what it preaches to India, that is, desisting from infrastructure building near the LAC, especially in areas such as Aksai Chin over which India has territorial claims. Both sides describe the other’s infrastructure building activity as aggressive.

It is unfortunate that India and China view border infrastructure in military terms and through the lens of consolidating control over territory. Given the fact that the two countries are anxious to develop their economies and enhance bilateral trade, can they not view the improved road connectivity to the LAC as opening up economic opportunity and facilitating overland trade between the two countries?

Border trade, which is minimal at the moment, could be enhanced if road /rail network here was improved on both sides. The government also plans to construct an industrial corridor to boost Arunachal’s economy. This would benefit Sino-Indian trade too.  

The building of roads along the LAC is welcome. But this is just the first step.  Projects to improve border infrastructure were announced in the past too. These faltered on implementation. Just 230 km of the proposed 2,400 km-long Trans-Arunachal highway network is complete since the project was announced in 2008.

Will the proposed road along the McMahon Line meet the same fate? Officials often blame delays in executing border road projects on difficult terrain, hostile climate and difficulty in acquiring land. How has China overcome similar geography and weather?

The NDA government’s easing of environmental norms for border road projects removes a major roadblock in commencing construction. A long-overdue decision to improve border roads has been taken. The government must follow up to ensure its early completion.

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