Uttarakhand in focus for wrong reasons

Uttarakhand in focus for wrong reasons

In the event of a war, the China would be able to shift its troops to the desired locations in no time.

After a long time, a part of the northern border of the central Himalayan state of Uttarakhand grabbed national attention when some Chinese army men intruded into the demilitarised zone in the Bara Hoti area of the high altitude district Chamoli on July 22. Soon thereafter, an airspace violation on July 25 was reported prompting Chief Minister Harish Rawat to express concern over this development.

The Union government was also alerted about this development as this high altitude district bordering China had also faced a direct threat from the Chinese troops in the 1962 border war.

Uttarakhand, which was once part of Uttar Pradesh, is strategically located bordering China in the north and Nepal in the east. As it were, at present, India’s relations with both these neighbours are not very cozy. Therefore, the security of Uttarakhand automatically turns vulnerable. This, despite the known fact that local traders residing in the upper reaches of Uttarakhand have been trading with the Chinese and Nepalese population for centuries now.

India’s soured relations with Nepal over the Madhesi issue and the ascendancy of Maoists to power there, may have implications with regard to the cross-border movement. Under the Indo-Nepal treaty of 1950, cross border movement is allowed without any restrictions. In the light of this, the present Nepalese dispensation may not be so much bothered to keep a close vigil on the rogue elements’ entry into India. India shares some 235 km-long border with Nepal in district Pithoragarh of Uttarakhand.

Similarly, India has a 350 km-long border on the northern side closely watched by China. There are four areas, lying above 1,700 ft, which make the cross border accessibility easy for either side of Uttarakhand. These are: Barahoti, Niti and Mana pass in Chamoli district of Garhwal division and Lipu Lekh pass in Pithoragarh in Kumoun division. It is often reported that China has developed an excellent infrastructure right across the border which includes communication, rail and road modernisation.

No infrastructure
Therefore, in the event of a war with India, China would be able to shift its troops to the desired locations in no time. In contrast, India has no such infrastructure in place. In the eventuality of such a situation and in the absence of a matching infrastructure in this side of the border districts, it may really cost the country dearly. Therefore, there is indeed a crying need for developing proper defence-related infrastructure, especially in the Uttarakhand hills where we have major centres of pilgrimages visited by millions of devotees round the year.

Given the close ties between China and  Pakistan, Islamabad might use Nepal’s porous border with India to its advantage. Even though no Pakistani agent has been arrested from the Uttarakhand-Nepal border in the recent past, the intrusion of Pakistani agents through this border in future cannot be totally ruled out. It is also a fact that some Maoists and ISI-connected elements have been detained from this area in the past.

What further complicates the security situation in Uttarakhand is the constant and unabated migration of the able-bodied hill folk to the other cities in the absence of basic facilities and job opportunities in the hilly region itself. Therefore, the changed demographic nature of the indigenous population poses an altogether different challenge to the state’s safety.

Today, it is said that some three lakh houses in 10 hill districts of the state lie totally abandoned. Quite interestingly, taking advantage of the situation, hordes of Nepalese people from across the Nepal border are said to have now occupied many such abandoned areas in the Garhwal hills. This huge migrated population of youth could have acted as a second line of defence for the state in case of need.

Self-serving politicians
Unfortunately, due to outright and pronounced political instability in the state over the past 16 years and self serving attitude of the people in power, the desired development of the state has remained, more or less, stalled. Even the basic amenities are not available to the people in many parts of the hills, not to speak of security preparedness.

A separate state was sought to be created on the premise that due to non-availability of job opportunities and livelihood to the native residents in their own areas, they were leaving for other areas in big numbers. But even after the formation of a separate state, successive governments could  resolve this problem and, at best, remained entangled in hurling charges and counter-charges at each other.

Another factor which further compromises the state security situation is its location in the zone five of the national seismic map. This region has been facing earthquakes at regular intervals and even now, neo-tectonic activities are stated to be continuing and the geoscientists do not rule out the possibility of a big quake. In the 1991 and 1998 earthquakes, hundreds were killed and thousands rendered homeless, making the relief and rehabilitation difficult given the nature of rugged terrain. Thus, with an enemy threat on two sides and a constant danger of a natural disaster hanging over its head, Uttarakhand has to be on its toe all the time.

(The writer is a Dehradun-based senior journalist)

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