In a major policy move, China frontier guarding force ITBP will sponsor India-wide excursion tours for senior citizens living in border areas of Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh to build strong ties with the people, described as “strategic assets” by Home Minister Rajnath Singh. The paramilitary force has also decided to almost double, to a dozen in a year, the number of such regular educational tours for the children living in border areas. Both the steps have been undertaken for the first time in decades and are understood to be done in the backdrop of India’s strategy to enhance security on its borders. Official sources said the new policy to take elderly citizens on excursion tours to mainland India, including the national capital Delhi, was made after Singh recently told the force that they should always keep in mind that the border population living along the Sino-India border were the country’s “strategic assets”.
Addressing the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) troops at their camp in Uttarakhand’s Joshimath in September after a forward area tour, Singh had directed the frontier guarding force to ensure that this population is taken care of as their migration would put India’s security at risk. As per a blueprint prepared by the force and accessed by PTI, it is “proposed for the first time that apart from schoolchildren, elderly inhabitants including senior citizens of the border population will also be the part of future excursion tours by the force.”
The force has also decided to earmark fresh funds from its Civic Action Programme (CAP) budget to ensure airline tickets for these guests of the force. The CAP funds are given by the home ministry to the forces to undertake outreach initiatives for locals in their area of deployment. Funds for air tickets were required, officials sources said, as many border villages are located in remote locations and journey by air will cut down the overall travel time. “With such initiatives, the force has been eyeing to organise more programmes to win hearts and minds of the remote population and to provide them an opportunity to experience the rich social, cultural and historical heritage of the nation,” the blueprint said.
“Till now, the ITBP and other border guarding forces were only undertaking such tours for children living in border areas to educate them about their vast country which they probably could not see themselves due to their remote location or meagre resources. “The MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs) recently allowed the new proposal for the ITBP to take senior citizens for such tours where travel, boarding and all logistics are taken care by the force,” a senior home ministry official explained. The first such tour of senior citizens, probably from forward areas of Arunachal Pradesh, is expected in the next a few months and the contingent is expected to travel to religious and iconic places of the country and culminate in Delhi before winding up.
“People living along the India-China border should not be made to migrate at any cost. They are our strategic assets. They should be given more importance. The day they will migrate…that will not be good for our border security,” the home minister had said. He told the troops, during his address, that the border population held an important place in the hearts of the government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “The prime minister has said special attention should be given to the well-being of the people living on the borders. I will request ITBP (personnel) to make friends with the local population in the area of their border deployment,” he had said.
The 90,000-personnel strong ITBP is tasked with guarding the 3,488-km-long Sino-India border that stretches from Jammu and Kashmir (1,597 km), to Himachal Pradesh (200 km), Uttarakhand (345 km), Sikkim (220 km) and Arunachal Pradesh (1,126 km). Border guarding forces on India’s eastern flank, like the ITBP, the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) and the Army have said they were taking steps to ensure tranquillity on the borders after the more-than-two-months-long Dokalam standoff between Indian and Chinese personnel ended in August last year.