A development of three border villages – Kaho, Kibithoo & Meshai along the India-China border by the Arunachal Pradesh government  is a step to enhance India’s border management, enhance development projects, curb migration along the border areas and check China’s assertiveness and deceptive nature along the border. With a focus on the 3 C’s – Cluster, Convergence and Community, the development of model villages (as of now, a pilot project) will provide comprehensive expansion to the border villages providing better roads, power, water supply, health, internet connectivity and education.
The Indian Army, precisely the Eastern Command, is closely coordinating with the government of Arunachal Pradesh to expand the program  and enhance the first line of defense (i.e., people) along the LAC (Line of Actual Control). The presence of border villages is vital for various reasons. They act as the country’s first line of defense, as happened in 1999, when local shepherds reported infiltration in Kargil. Also, the local people have recently reported construction work by PLA’s (People Liberation Army) soldiers along the LAC. The local villagers act as key informants to the security forces and help safeguard national territorial integrity.
However, the government often neglects the border villages, leading to poor connectivity, underdevelopment and difficult living conditions, causing massive out-migration. A case in point is Uttarakhand; the border districts of the state are seeing an enormous out-migration due to hostile living conditions, abysmal infrastructure, lack of connectivity and poor health and education facilities. Between 2011 and 2018, over 185 villages in three border districts of Uttarakhand were declared ‘completely depopulated’ and are termed ‘ghost villages. Flagging the concern, General Bipin Rawat had pointed out that Migration along the border can have substantial national security implications. Out-migration from border areas creates internal and external security challenges; internally, it burdens the resources in the urban area and externally gives scope to the belligerent nation to nibble on the territory if it remains unchecked. Also, the Migration of the local population from the border areas creates another challenge in acclimatizing outsider to these places. Recently, the eastern commander, Lt General Rana Pratap Kalita, revealed that the army is facing challenges in border areas due to out Migration of the local population. The local people are more accustomed to the environment and terrain and therefore are more viable resources than those from outside. Furthermore, outside people hardly prefer working in such harsh conditions, creating a workforce shortage in these areas.
On the other hand, China is developing a ‘Xiaokang’ (Well-off) border defense village along the LAC for surveillance.  These border villages have mushroomed recently, intending to create a buffer inhabited by people loyal to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the nation. Currently, 358 border villages have been constructed to keep an eye on trans-border movement, looking out for secessionist elements and countering infiltration. China understands that any direct deployment of force along the border will lead to stiff resistance from the Indian armed forces, which are more seasoned in mountain warfare. Therefore, it is trying to increase its presence along the border indirectly. Also, with the development of border villages, China is trying to change the demography of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and curb the internal voice of the free Tibet movement. China is trying to replicate the Xinjiang model in TAR by establishing large internment camps. Under the shroud of the poverty alleviation program  China is changing demography, fortifying borders and preparing itself for any eventuality at the border.
The deceitful nature of the PLA is well known and massive out-migration along the LAC will be seen as an opportunity to seize the Indian territory by salami-slicing tactics. The Chinese are known to gain the territory without fighting and the development of border defense villages must be seen from this prism and as a forthcoming challenge. The possibility of using these villages for dual use purposes, both civil and military, by the PLA cannot be ruled out. Therefore, an initiative to develop border villages by the Arunachal Pradesh government must be appreciated and enhanced throughout the LAC. Relaxation of Inner Line Permit (ILP) for the local tourists must be considered as done in Ladakh. Exposure of remote places to local tourists helps sustain the economy of these places by providing employment and helping check out migration in the region.
Education, health and banking facilities are core to human settlement and, therefore, must be provided to the people living in the border area. For this, the Border Area Management Programme (BAMP) ‘s scope must be increased and more funds must be allocated to the states sharing their border with China. Another aspect that must be considered is promoting these remote villages’ cultural and traditional practices to the outside world. Due to globalization, people are migrating toward the cities, leading to the erosion of social practices prevalent in these areas for centuries. Social practices bind people living in remote and harsh climatic conditions; promoting such practices will provide the necessary morale to keep the villages occupied and will contribute to national security.
Modern militaries are working toward the cognitive domain of warfare, i.e., penetrating into the people’s mind and influencing it accordingly to achieve the national objective. Having villages along the border provides a psychological advantage to the nation and benefits the security forces. Also, it reduces the cost incurred on surveillance as people are the accurate surveillance tool manning every inch of the border. The government must consider making model village clusters  along the LAC. These model village clusters are small groups of villages with all the modern-day facilities, including health, education, electricity and connectivity. In doing so, the cost of maintaining the villages at borders will undoubtedly be less than the cost incurred on maintaining the security forces at the LAC. Therefore, the initiative needs to be reciprocated throughout the LAC.
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- Santosh Chhaubey, “Mass Internment Camps, Forced population swap: Is Tibet the next Xinjiang”?, 05 February 2021. Available at https://www.news18.com/news/opinion/opinion-mass-internment-camps-forced-population-swap-is-tibet-the-next-xinjiang-3394826.html, accessed on 29 August 2022.
- Tsewang Dorji, “Border Villages in Tibet: Why India should be vary of China’s New ‘ Eyes and Ears’ on Himalayas”, 26 July 2022. Available at https://www.news18.com/news/opinion/border-villages-in-tibet-why-india-should-be-wary-of-chinas-new-eyes-and-ears-in-himalaya-5498731.html, accessed on 29 August 2022.
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- Ramgopal Agarwal, “Developing Model Village Clusters”, The Hindu, 18 September 2014. Available at https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/developing-model-village-clusters/article6420016.ece, accessed on 29 August 2022.