HARKA BAHADUR Chettri, 52, pays Rs 100-120 for a kilo of salt at Vijaynagar in Changlang district of south-eastern Arunachal Pradesh. Adjoining Myanmar, Vijaynagar is the only circle headquarters in this Northeast Indian state without road link to the world beyond.Ankhumaduye Yobin, 77, isn’t as ‘affluent’. So she raises local chicken to barter a full-grown one for her kilo of salt.
They have a choice though – trek for seven days to sub-divisional headquarters Miao on the border with Assam in the west.
Salt isn’t as rare a commodity for Sena Miji, 24, of Lada village near the border with China. But like 150 other villagers, he has to walk 55km to the nearest public health centre at Bameng town in western Arunachal Pradesh’s East Kameng district.
Rural development minister Jairam Ramesh on February 19 laid the foundation stones for the 157km Miao-Vijaynagar road – to be the longest under Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana – and the 55km Bameng-Lada road.
The roads estimated to cost Rs 225crore within a five-year timeframe have ostensibly been sanctioned to let the likes of Chettri buy salt cheap and Miji to have faster access to healthcare. But locals believe it has partly to do with China’s push for infrastructure development and connectivity right up to the border with India.
Ramesh played down the China factor, saying a relook at connectivity problems on the north-eastern frontier made sanctioning the two strategic rural roads possible. “Last week, the cabinet approved amending PMGSY norms for Arunachal Pradesh to help 600 habitations on the border with China get roads,” he said.
These 600 habitations are among 3,880 in Arunachal Pradesh with less than 250 people. PMGSY requires a habitation to have more than 250 people to be connected with a road.
PMGSY rules have also been bent for Arunachal Pradesh to ensure bridges up to 100 metres length instead of 50 metres for other states. While the Bameng-Lada road will have three 100m bridges, the Miao-Vijaynagar road will have 25.
The Miao-Vijaynagar road was also hanging fire for environmental reasons. Of the 157km, 100km is through the 1,985 sq km Namdapha Tiger Reserve, India’s second largest. “We sorted out the issue by ensuring the 100km within the tiger habitat is gravel while the stretches outside it are blacktopped. Forest authorities will be entrusted the task of making the portion through Namdapha,” Ramesh said.
According to Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Nabam Tuki, 35% of the state’s habitations have been linked with fair-weather roads till date. Of these, 1,000 are located within 10 km from the international boundaries with China and Myanmar.
“Roads have been our priority in the past couple of years,” Tuki said.