LOOKING THROUGH THE LENS OF BORDER COMMUNITY
Today, India is among the fastest growing countries in the world and with a $2.6 trillion economy, the elephant has started to run. India is also set to surpass the USA by 2030. Like most other Indians, I also feel that for becoming an economic superpower, we need to draft a strong border management policy, which could secure our borders against infiltration, illicit trade, terrorism, transnational organised crime and trafficking, and at the same time promote cross border legitimate movement of goods and people.
I further believe in the idea that to enhance the capability of our jawans who guard our borders, we need to introduce similar high-tech surveillance projects such as Comprehensive Integrated Border Management Solution (CIBMS), in those places where we could not seal the borders with a fence. The combined capital outlay for border management by Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) and Indian Coast Guard in 2018- 19, stands at $597.9 million (Rs 4280 crore), with most of the money going towards surveillance technologies. In future, this budgetary provision will increase as there is a positive correlation between India’s growth and smart border management.
India has 15,106.7 km of land border and a coastline of 7,516.6 km including island territories. On my travels to some of the border regions, I observed the different terrains through which our borders pass and could appreciate that managing these borders is a difficult task, but is very significant from the national security point of view.
This year, I participated in Defexpo 2018 which was held in Chennai and witnessed live demonstration by Land, Naval and Aero systems by the Indian Army, Navy and the Air Force respectively. Over 670 defence & homeland security companies, including 154 foreign manufacturers, participated in India’s mega defence expo. Being a curious explorer, I managed to get insight into extraordinary indigenous and international high- technology solutions for securing Indian borders during peacetime. The booths in different hangars allowed me to discover cutting-edge capabilities in Radar Systems, Laser Systems, Camera Systems, Perimeter Intrusion Detection Systems, Intelligent Fencing Systems, Unmanned Vehicles, Wide-Band Wireless Communication Systems, Command and Control (C2) Systems, RF Jammers and Microwave Intrusion Detection System.
On the sidelines of the Defexpo, there were a series of high- level conferences with participants from the government, border defence and border guarding forces, industry and foreign delegates. Their aim was to discuss the future of border security and promote Make-in-India for Defence. It was at this programme that I started to visualise Indian borders differently. The technologies which I encountered at the Expo, have a different type of functionality than either a fence or a wall. They are covert and enhance surveillance and detection capabilities.
These technologies are incredible and I feel that soon the Indian defence and border guarding forces will procure them.
Do these technologies define Indian boundaries? And do these modern technologies have deterrence capabilities? When these questions started coming to my mind, I realised that the answer is No. I realised that Indian borders including the India- Pakistan border are not walls. They are ever-widening surveillance zone that turns border community into first line of defence. It is the border communities that define Indian boundaries. In my eyes, these patriotic Indians are India’s first lines of defence and their loyalty must be maintained through fulfilling their aspirations. They are the people who are stuck in a ‘spider net’ between two nations and protecting India at ‘zero borders’. Without their existence our boundaries will shrink.
Few years back, I visited Demchok, the last village in Leh district, before the Indo-China border. After the 1962 Sino- Indian war, the village itself was divided into two parts, one held by India and the other by China. Currently, the Indian side has approximately 31 households. On the Chinese side, which is few meters away, one can spot good development as they have double storey buildings and good infrastructure. However, the Indian side has poor infrastructure, a sign of the neglect by Indian authorities.
East Sikkim—Sharing borders with Bhutan & China
With Doklam standoff in news for quite some time, I learned that East Sikkim is so crucial to India’s national security. India cannot afford to neglect the aspirations of border communities of this region, when the northern neighbour is always ready to change the status quo. With respect to the aspirations of this border community, large sections of the community feel that the Indian Government has ignored them, especially in terms of road connectivity with the rest of the nation and with Bhutan.
The Curious case of Tawang
Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh is once again of great strategic importance. Here too, during my interaction with some of the locals, there was a feeling of neglect by India. While these patriotic nationals strongly identify themselves with India and its people, they feel neglected because they have lagged in terms of infrastructure and developmental activities.
Falkawan — A Typical Mizo Village Sharing borders with Myanmar & Bangladesh
This small village is situated in the Aizawl district of Mizoram and located near Indo-Myanmar and Indo-Bangladesh border. My friend, who is an elected council member of this village, told me an interesting case of how colonial boundaries separated Mizo-clans and sub-clans into three nations namely India, Myanmar and Bangladesh. These people never crossed the border, but the border crossed them.
Muktapur in Meghalaya, close to India’s border with Bangladesh
Border communities of Meghalaya, which are living close to Indo-Bangladesh border, especially Muktapur area, West Jainitia Hills District, are located in remote areas, far away from market places and town. Since 1980’s, their economic condition is deteriorating, which is forcing them to migrate from this beautiful village to bigger cities in search of employment. This village has a population of only 1000 people and hypothetically, if they all move to bigger cities, it is only a matter of time before ourborder here starts shrinking.
Andaman & Nicobar Islands: Vital Islands, Vanishing Tribal Population
It is strange that when we discuss borders, we generally only think about land borders. What about the island territories of India? Andaman and Nicobar Islands are of immerse strategic importance to us. In terms of distance, they are closer to our ASEAN neighbours than to the Indian mainland. The isolation and remoteness of these islands make them vulnerable to conventional and non-conventional threats. During my interaction with an Executive Member of Nicobar’s Tribal Council, It became apparent that it is in India’s national interest to focus on infrastructure development and provide security to these islands.
Kutch — Sharing a natural border with Pakistan
When I interacted with my friends from Dhordo Juth and
Expectations from the Government
Demchok Village, Leh District (Jammu & Kashmir)
Currently, the ITBP post is located at the village where people reside. At every check post, they create the problem to every individual and is not tolerable by them. The ITBP’s post should be deployed at Zero border.
Initiate discussions with Chinese authorities for undertaking Kailash-Mansarovar route via Demchok, which is not only the shortest route but also boost the economy.
Set-up trading points/ trade facilitation centres at Chumur – Demchok and chushul, so that people could trade across Indo-China border and this could provide livelihood to the villagers.
Undertake adequate steps, which could promote tourism in Eastern Ladakh and provide source of livelihood to these villagers.
Try to provide them adequate infrastructure facilities such as roads, public transport, telecommunication, electricity, education, healthcare facilities etc. which should make them realize that ‘Grass is not Greener on the other Side’.
Many parts of Changthang sub divison is covered under cold desert sanctuary and this have resulted in good preservation of wild animals. However, the villagers do not get compensation when the wild animals eat their cattle. This has resulted in huge losses to the villagers.
Sikkim is connected with rest of India through NH 10 only. There is a need to expedite the work of proposed alternate highway, which will originate from NH31C near Bagrakote and end at Gangtok.
Telecommunication facilities are not up to the mark.
Government could consider connecting Bhutan from Sikkim via road.
Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh
The infrastructure facilities infrastructure facilities such as roads, public transport, telecommunication, electricity, education, healthcare facilities etc. are not upto the mark.
Falkawan Village, Mizoram
There is a desire of uniting all the Mizo-clans and sub-clans into one Zo-Reunification Organization (ZORO). Currently, they are spread over India, Myanmar and Bangladesh.
In this context, the community requests to appoint an IFS officer in the border area, which could help organize trade fairs, inter-cultural festivals, sports programme etc. among Myanmar Mizos and Indian Mizos.
They have only one single motorable road communication via Zokhawthar border to Myanmar. No road communication at Indo-Bangladesh border. As India actively moving towards Act East Policy, they need good road communication to connect to the neighboring countries in various routes.
The infrastructure facilities such as roads, public transport, telecommunication, electricity, education, healthcare facilities etc. are not upto the mark.
Government has to clearly demarcate inner line forest reserve between Assam and Mizoram. Assam has illegally occupied 509 sq miles of this inner line forest reserve areas. It hurts Mizo sentiments and has become a lingering burning issue.
Corruption is rampant in border areas, which promotes illegal flow of goods and people.
Muktapur Village, Meghalaya
Government to take steps to revive Muktapur International Border Haat.
Land Custom Station (LCS) is also needed in Muktapur area because of the availability of abundant limestone deposit in Jongushen, Syndai, Amlari and Lama area of East Jaintia Hills District. In addition, there is congestion on Dawki/ Tamabil LCS.
BSF is required to undertake adequate community policing initiatives, which could win the hearts of local people.
Requirement to set-up small-scale industries, vocational training centres, hospital, education institutes etc. in the region.
There is an improper demarcation of international boundary between India and Bangladesh in this area, which needs to be addressed by the Government of India.
Government to provide some communication devices to tribal fishermen, so that they could use to device to communicate to the local police if they sight a strange boat, ship or person.
Requirement of a direct flight between Delhi and Car-Nicobar.
Healthcare and education facilities are not upto the mark. Most of the villagers feel that BSF officers are highly educated and they will appreciate if they could teach their students as well.
Dholavira in Kutch region of Gujarat, I was happy to find that today, we have no boundary dispute with Pakistan over parts of Kutch. It is very difficult for illegal migrants and terrorists to cross the vast expanse of very harsh desert. Furthermore, they told me that the successive government took several invitees to promote tourism in this region and this is the biggest source of income for the border communities. Do they still have issues with Government? Yes, they do!
Why these small aspirations could not be met by India?
To conclude, we need to strengthen the Border Area Development Programme (BADP), which is a centrally sponsored scheme and aims at development of infrastructure in border regions and inclusion of other socio-economic aspects such as health, education etc. for the border communities. According to a NITI Aayog study, almost 80% of the beneficiaries of this scheme did not feel satisfied with the impact of the BADP.
Furthermore, despite their importance, our border communities do not receive the full attention of the Government, except when border tensions arise. During my interaction, with various defence veterans, I heard the argument, which advocates for limited development of our border areas. I strongly feel that the border communities may not represent a large or politically influential section, but India’s national security depends on them. Moreover, developing state of the art infrastructure between the border districts and the rest of the country will strengthen border security.
I have not met the representatives of all the border districts of India, but I feel that their aspirations will be similar to the people whom I met. So what should we do now? Would it be possible to fulfil the aspirations of India’s most neglected border communities? I remain hopeful.
(Ankit Gupta is currently working as Senior Assistant Director in ‘Homeland Security’ sector of FICCI. In his current role, he is looking at bridging the gap between policing and technology. He is working on various issues like Policy for UAVs/ Drones, SMART Policing, Police Modernisation, Smart Border Management, Cyber Crime Management and issues in the public procurement policy. He has created the first ever SMART Policing Awards in this country.)
DISCLAIMER: Views expressed above are the author’s own.