Rabu, 27 Juli 2016

India should follow China's cues on infrastructure

One may think India is sleeping, but that is not the case. India is busy with civilisational issues.

Whether it is a mega-cultural event on the banks of Yamuna or the ‘tolerance’ debate in the Indian universities, the buzzword is ‘civilisational’, a word cherished by Indian ‘thinkers’.
It reminds me of the lengthy ‘civilisational’ dispatches from KM Panikkar, the then Indian Ambassador in Beijing, to his prime minister during the fall of 1950. Jawaharlal Nehru always promptly replied with grand philosophical cables about ‘peace in the world’.

<b><u>Ideological</u></b>
At exactly the same time, Mao Zedong sent short, to-the-point orders to the People’s Liberation Army to advance towards India’s northern borders, invading Tibet in passing.
Tourism has become a major force in supporting the economy of China’s border areas - and proper infrastructure is crucial to attracting visitors
The Great Headsman went straight to the logistics required: providing the Chinese invading force with the day-to-day practical instructions.
“The philosophers have so far only interpreted the world, the point is to change it,” Mao had written earlier.

To juxtapose the two is an eye-opener. Has the situation changed in the past 65 years? Not much. The focus of the Indian nation remains on philosophical or ideological issues (does tolerance need to be discussed again and again, when it is a fact of life in India?), while China still believes that it does not matter if a cat is black or white as long as it catches mice.

Just look at the massive development in Nyingchi Prefecture (called Nyingtri by the Tibetans), north of the Indian border of Arunachal Pradesh. Though the happenings in the area have critical implications for India, this does seem to bother anybody in the country.

<b><u>It is true that the North-East is so far from Delhi!</u></b>
The Yarlung Tsangpo, known as Siang in Arunachal Pradesh and Brahmaputra in Assam, flows through the Tibetan prefecture, which will set up an international ecotourism zone during the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020). It will receive six million tourists by 2020… and get a hefty $1.2 billion revenue from the mainland visitors.

According to China Tibet Online, during the next five years, Nyingchi will build 10 rural tourism demo villages, adding some 70,000 jobs; the per capita income for the local population will increase by about 10,000 yuan ($1620).

Tourism has become a major force in supporting the economy of China’s border areas, and Beijing’s Five-Year Plan says that it is ‘crucial’ to improve the income of the Tibetans and develop infrastructure for the region.
For the first time in 2015, Nyingchi Prefecture’s GDP has crossed 10 billion yuan to reach 10.4 billion yuan ($1.67 billion); its growth rate of 11.2 per cent is the highest among cities on the plateau.
Can you imagine something similar in Upper Siang, Anjaw or other border districts of Arunachal? In Nyingchi, 25 per cent of the prefecture’s revenue comes from tourism. “There were 3.2 million tourists in Nyingchi in 2015, a 20 per cent increase from 2014. (Today) over 5,000 local residents work in tourism, running 219 family inns,” proclaim the local officials.

<b><u>Infrastructure</u></b>
On the other side of the slope, India remains busy with ‘civilisational’ issues. As a result, the infrastructure south of the McMahon Line is coming up at a snail’s pace and still struggling under an antiquated Inner Line Permit system set up by the British.

In Southern Tibet, the infrastructure of the border areas grows faster every day (note that the same infrastructure is used by the People’s Liberation Army). Is this development a danger for the environment of these pristine areas and India downstream? Probably, though last week, during a panel discussion with the delegates from Qinghai province on the sidelines of the National People’s Congress, President Xi Jinping pledged to protect the fragile ecology of Tibet.

He said: “The ecological environment has irreplaceable value. We should treat it as our lifeline and protect it like the apple of our eye.”
He exhorted the delegates to treat environment ‘as our lifeline’. This is great news… if it is followed by acts.
In India, infrastructure development has not reached this point, though two Advanced Landing Grounds (ALG) in Ziro and Aalo have just ‘reopened’ in Arunachal Pradesh, slightly improving the Air Force’s operational capability; though it is a small step forward, the situation remains pathetic.

Tourism
A PTI report explained that “the runway surface at Ziro saw a steady deterioration over a period of time due to lack of maintenance and other issues. Encroachment due to absence of a security wall further added to the declining status of the airfield.”
One could ask, why not open the area to tourism on a large scale like China? After all, it is Indian territory.
The last Chinese Plan promises that “Nyingchi will strengthen the transportation networks via air, rail, highways, and waterways, as well as the building of starred hotels, economy hotels, motels, theme hotels, family inns, and recreational vehicle parks to diversify the type of accommodations.”

The China Tibet Online further reports: “The Lhasa-Nyingchi highway was put in use by the end of 2015, while the Lhasa-Nyingchi railway is also under construction. In addition, Mainling Airport could become an international airport with more flights and routes in the future.”
After opening a tunnel in 2013, the small county of Metok, north of the Geling Circle of Upper Siang district, which was earlier known as the last county without road access in China, received 70,000 visitors in 2015. Is it not an example worth studying at least?

One can only pray that Delhi will wake up and start building more roads and tunnels in the border districts of Arunachal Pradesh. For this, tourism has an important role to play - but can the mindsets change in Delhi?
The writer is an expert on Tibet and China