In the backdrop of repeated Chinese incursions along the LAC, the Centre is planning to build a second line of defence in villages bordering China by relaxing tourism-related activities.
The first step in the direction will be to free some parts of the Gangotri area in Uttarakhand from the Inner Line Permit (ILP) system. Uttarakhand has a 350-km border with China.
Union Tourism Minister Prahlad Patel and Uttarakhand Tourism Minister Satpal Maharaj discussed the matter in late July. Maharaj said thereafter, that the Centre had assured action on the state’s plan. Any formal order in this regard must come from the Union Ministry of Home Affairs.
On August 17, Maharaj wrote to Patel, listing tourist and religious sites close to the border where the ILP needed to be relaxed in the first phase. These included “parts of Nelong valley in Uttarkashi, Hanol, Tiuni and Chakrata in Dehradun and Timmersain Mahadev temple in Chamoli’s Niti valley”.
Towards the end of last month, Maharaj wrote to Home Minister Amit Shah and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on the issue.
Maharaj told The Indian Express, “The Home Ministry is concerned about incursions in the area and about border villages being deserted. They agree that there should be some tourism and economic activity so that the border villages remain inhabited.”
Uttarakhand has also decided to provide subsidy for the installation of mobile phone towers in the remote border villages, which are currently mostly out of network coverage area.
There have been demands for relaxation of the ILP even in the tribal areas of Kumaon, Maharaj said. These areas are seeing intrusions from Nepal, with some foreigners settling in border villages, along with an increased use of satellite phones, the Minister said.
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A few weeks go, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat had a meeting with the Director General of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) S S Deswal. At the meeting, Deswal raised several issues pertaining to reverse migration, road, mobile, and power connectivity, and the promotion of tourism in remote areas in the backdrop of the recent clashes with China along the LAC in Ladakh.
The ILP system restricts movement in areas close to the border for everyone other than those with a formal permission from the Union Home Ministry. The ITBP is stationed along the border areas, and implements the ILP regime.
Several experts have advocated greater human activity on the Indian side of the border, including more settlements and tourism activities in the border areas that could act as additional eyes and ears of the security forces, and perform as a second line of defence against external aggression or infiltration. As of now, most border villages have undergone significant outward migration owing to the absence of livelihood opportunities.
Uttarakhand has said that relaxing the regime of restrictions would allow for houses in the beautiful border villages to be developed as homestays, and will directly contribute towards helping the village economy.
Areas to be included
Maharaj said, “In the first stage, we will open up Mukhba, Bagholi and Harsil in the Gangotri area, so you can see and enjoy all these places.”
Harsil town, situated at an altitude of 2,620 m in Uttarkashi, is surrounded by snowcapped mountains. A major portion of Raj Kapoor’s 1985 film Ram Teri Ganga Maili was shot here.
Mukhba is the alternative seat of the Goddess Ganga, when the idol of the deity is brought down from Gangotri, which is rendered inaccessible during winter.
“Next, we are looking to get permission for Kuti and Byas villages in Pithoragarh district,” Maharaj said, adding,“We will also hold discussions with the Home Ministry regarding drawing up a list of other villages where they feel the need for increasing surveillance.”
Maharaj said: “We want our border villages to be safe, for which we have mooted the concept of tribal tourism. For instance, we can have skiing activities in Niti Valley area during winter, and the place will become inhabited if people get livelihood through tourism. That will ensure safety and surveillance of our border villages and troops will get additional support.”
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According to the Minister, such a step will help in the permanent protection of borders, and also generate livelihoods for the local population and discourage them from leaving.
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