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Asian Development Bank: A stumbling block for Arunachal Pradesh

“Every time they stepped outside, they felt pariah in their own nation”------ Anonymous saying for the people of NE of India

Post by on Monday, July 5, 2021

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Located at 6 ADB Avenue .Metro Manila Philippines, the ADB or the Asian development bank is modeled on the lines of the IMF/International monetary fund in Dec 1966. ADB’s mandate included social development that focused on inclusive economic growth and regional integration. It carries  forward its task in the form of loans, grants and information sharing –in infrastructure, health care services, financial and public administration systems helping nations prepare for the impact of climate change or better manage their natural resources as well as others. About 80% of ADB’s lending is concentrated on public sector lending in five operational areas to include education, environment, financial sector development, infrastructure development, regional cooperation and integration and private sector lending. Since the early days of ADB, it has been plagued by criticism that the two major donors US and Japan have had extensive influence over lending, policy and staffing decisions.
But the latest to join the bandwagon of this criticism in a more accentuated manner is China. In fact China has been dragging the Geostrategic/political tangling with India into the arena of financing certain core interests of the country in the NE corner of our country by influencing the board of governors of the ADB. Arunachal Pradesh, to be precise is the area which is being tested on the hard anvil of Sino –Indian relations, much to the chagrin of its inhabitants.Having stayed and served in Arunachal Pradesh in the early 90s while in the army I was witness to the immense hardships the local population of this state was put to manage even a decent living for themselves despite a back breaking work schedule undertaken by all and sundry.  
Despite the numerous vicissitudes of life the majority population of Arunachal being tribal goes about its living with a stoic detachment  that calls for immediate attention of GOI  lest it outbursts in a diabolical form for the detriment of us all. Coming to the present logjam between India and the ADB which has turned the proverbial clock of development on the backburner .The case dates back to 2009 when China strongly objected to an ADB plan for $ 60 million dollars watershed programme in Arunachal Pradesh claiming that it belonged to an entire state which was under dispute. Moreover in July 2009 the then FM SM Krishna had said that China did not endorse the country partnership strategy (CPS-2009-12) for India in the board of ADB on the ground that the proposed Indian country partnership programme involved technical assistance funding for the flood and riverine management in Arunachal Pradesh which they claim as part of southern Tibet as mentioned earlier in this write up.
Government of India told China way back in 2009 that Arunachal Pradesh is an integral part of India and also conveyed to all members of ADB, that CPS is not a political tool or document and it does not make any judgment as to the legal or other states of any territories and China’s objections on political grounds is a clear violation of the ADB’s charter which prohibits the bank from evaluating any proposal on grounds other than economic. The impression that India got at that time was that ADB Board had agreed with India’s position. However according to leaked cables from the US embassy in Beijing, China ultimately prevailed and the ADB has steered clear of funding projects in this troubled corner of NE of India. In fact in his letter to the union ministry, ADB’s country director for India, Takeo Konishi cited a study that identified 24 growth centers and 20 border centers in the NE of India that can drive growth of the states in the region.
The study also highlighted the latent potential of Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Nagaland, Mizoram and Tripura in many sectors   and lays down road map for developing them. But there is no mention of Arunachal Pradesh and its latent potential. ADB’s preparatory study mentions agriculture, horticulture, tourism, and power generation as the key drivers of growth in the region and explore ways to develop these sectors. Having served in Arunachal Pradesh as mentioned above for a good portion and traversed on foot the highs and lows of its terrain, I may say with conviction that Arunachal Pradesh is one state which has huge untapped potential in all these sectors and the state’s exclusion from the ADB’s project is thus without any merit. The union government initiated a slew of measures / projects including the 2407 km long “Trans Arunachal highway “connecting the easternmost and westernmost parts of the state. This highway is complete and has accelerated the development of remote parts of this frontier state. Work on this project continued at a snail’s pace till it was expedited after NDA government came to power in 2014. 
Another major project is the 2000 kilometer long “Arunachal frontier highway” that will follow the ‘Mac Mohan” line which forms the border between India & Chinese occupied Tibet. But work on this mega project has not been progressing satisfactorily and needs to be quickened. Two more projects the ‘Arunachal Pradesh East west industrial corridor’ and the ‘Bhalukpong –Tawang rail link are also languishing as are some other infra and industrial projects in the frontier state of NE of India.Many roads in Arunachal Pradesh are in a terrible state and roads to even strategically located towns and villages and military posts along the LAC are Myanmar don’t even exist. Infact in late March this year, the country witnessed the embarrassing sight of Arunachal Pradesh CM PemaKhandu driving an off-road vehicle to Vijaynagar, the administrative circle in Changlang district bordering Myanmar. It took Khnandu, the first CM to visit Vijaynagar, 2 days to cover the 157 kms on his 4 x wheel drive off-roader and even on foot.
According to a 2017 SBI report Arunachal is the 15th among all states on the State-wise ‘Human development index” list. The state’s average literacy rate is around 65% as per census 2011. Earlier this year reports surfaced that china was settling villages not across the Arunachal border but inside Arunachal. China has allegedly built a village on the banks of river Tsari - Chu in upper Subansiri district of Arunachal Pradesh with the villagers having reported about 101 homes and encroaches approximately into the Indian Territory. The ministry of external affairs (MEA) said they were seized of the matter and keeping a close watch on the whole drama unfolding across the LAC. China has typically responded in its inimical way saying that its construction was beyond reproach because it never recognized Arunachal Pradesh. This is neither an isolated incident nor the last of its kind. In fact as late as November 2018, the CM of Arunachal had reported that China was objecting to foreign funding from international financial institutions which in turn was taking its toll on its economy.
Arunachal Pradesh is the lone state facing such a blockade, but it can be offset by the presence of about 2 lakh military personnel and para military forces which can be thought of as a huge market for selling local produce and goods. In fact such was the fear of china that a 2011 report of ‘The Hindu’ showed that the ADB acknowledged it was a mistake. ADB China’s country director Robert Wihtol told officials of the US administration in September 2009 that the project in Arunachal had caused lots of problems for the ADB in China. Now here comes the role of Indian contribution by subscribed capital and voting power in the ADB. Despite India having fourth position in rankings in so far as its contribution in monetary terms i.e. 6.317 in percentage terms (% of total subscribed capital) and 5.347 as voting power percentage (%) of total voting rights & just a notch below of China’s 6.429 and 5.437 respectively in the ADB’S board of governors, its under punching as well as kowtowing its core interests to the browbeating is not excusable. Despite China’s intransigence, India has done well in providing air connectivity to its residents of this frontier state by way of various ALG’s (Advance landing grounds) which though military in use are also used for amenity purposes by airlifting them on payment of nominal charges.
But more needs to be done in terms of inter-valley connectivity which was quite visible last year in June 2020 when an IAF Aircraft AN-32 crashed in the deepest of jungles of Tato/Mechuka when on a routine air maintenance sortie from Jorhat in Assam. It took all its might of our air force to locate its wreckage which was hamstrung by the bad weather as well as the non-availability of any road axis to the site. Well at the end of the day why blame the ADB, an international financial institution for siding with the Chinese when they very well agreed in principle to side with us. By not investing in Arunachal all these years which was quite evident to me when I landed for the first time at the ALG of Mechuka a primitive town just 29 kms from the LAC in the early 90s while in service and having seen firsthand the trials and tribulations of the Adi tribes I may dare say that it’s our own pussyfoot attitude of non-involvement that has now come home to roost. In fact the last year standoff with china all along the LAC should belie our Micawberish tendency of hoping for the best despite the clear writingson the wall. Hope we learn something from our standoff with China and give Arunachal Pradesh its due by mobilizing all our diplomatic cum political resources at our command.
(Author is a Regular Contributor to RK. He can be approached at: slalotra4729@gmail.com)

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