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Chinese incursion, food & PDS in Arunachal

POSTED ON 29 SEPTEMBER 2010

wasbir hussain
director, Centre for Development and Peace Studies

Around seven months back, the frontier State of Arunachal Pradesh was witness to a highly sensitive but less publicized development. The police arrested three youths from the remote Kurung Kumey district for openly telling the authorities that they would consider crossing over to China if the food crisis were to continue in the area. Kurung Kumey, north of capital Itanagar and on the border with China, became a district in 2000. The district’s population, according to the 2001 Census, was 42,282. The three youths had in fact written a letter to this effect to the Director of Food and Civil Supplies, Government of Arunachal Pradesh.

Takam Sanjay, Lok Sabha MP from Arunachal who hails from Kurung Kumey district, confirmed the incident to this writer. “Unfortunately, it is a fact that three youths were arrested over the food issue. They have since been released,” he said. The three youths – Bake Joseph, Bamang Tuglik and Dongche Taya – are members of the Kumey Valley Federation, a local organization. What is significant, if sources in Arunachal Pradesh are to be believed, is that the youths have refused to withdraw the letter they had written to the Director of Food and Civil Supplies. This may actually be a small incident but the symbolism attached to the anger of the youths is indeed huge. After all, how many people in this country threaten to cross over to a not-so-friendly neighbouring nation simply because they have no food security in their own land?

The message though was not lost on New Delhi. The authorities were quick to introduce a helicopter service to connect the district’s Parsi Parlo Circle with the rest of the State and made sure there were regular sorties by AN 32 military planes to airdrop rice and other essentials. “Airdrops are the lifeline to the district. There is no scope of large-scale cultivation of rice in the district,” Takam Sanjay said.

No wonder that the Government-run Public Distribution System (PDS) is the most effective tool in the hands of the State to ensure food security to the people who inhabit some of the most treacherous terrains on the Indian frontier, bordering China’s Tibet region. But on September 20, 2010, the Arunachal Government asked the Food Corporation of India (FCI) that henceforth, from October 2010 onwards, it should make its own arrangement to lift food item from FCI base depots (in Assam and elsewhere) and see that it reaches the fair price shops (PDS outlets) across Arunachal Pradesh.

The letter written by the Director, Food and Civil Supplies, Arunachal, B Siram, to the Deputy General Manager, FCI, based at Naharlagun (near Itanagar), says: “This is to inform you that due to prolonged non-payment of pending hill transport subsidy (HTS), the State Government has decided…and conveyed to Union Minister of Food, Public Distribution and Consumer Affairs, Government of India, that transportation of FCI items from the FCI base depots to fair price shops located across the State of Arunachal Pradesh will be handed over to FCI if the pending HTS is not cleared by the Government of India/FCI by September 2010…It is requested that you may initiate necessary arrangements for taking over the transportation works of FCI in Arunachal Pradesh with effect from October 2010…”

This action by Arunachal Pradesh can lead to serious consequences because if food items fail to reach the people, now that the State Government is refusing to lift the FCI items on their own, more people might come up with protests, either similar to the one demonstrated by the three youths in Kurung Kumey, or in other way. In fact, Itanagar’s action should not have come as a surprise to New Delhi. This is because in June, Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu had written both to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi, apprising them of the non-payment of the hill transport subsidy by the FCI to the State for several years now. The Chief Minister has requested the Prime Minister as well as Sonia Gandhi to ensure that the FCI releases an amount of Rs 600 crore to enable the State pay hill transport subsidy component of the transportation charges to the transporters that are pending from 2004 onwards.

In his letter to Sonia Gandhi on June 5, 2010, Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu writes: “Since PDS is a continuous process, more and more HTS bills of subsequent period have started accumulating. The transportation rates fixed by the State Government during 2007 are also being questioned retrospectively by FCI. Its reduction, if done by FCI, will create more confusion as such rates were fixed through open tender and rates were notified after execution of agreements. This has put the State Government in an embarrassing position as the people need to be fed with food, but with such type of cooperation from the FCI, it is not possible to ensure food security to the people. Even if the Food Security Act is implemented, Arunachal Pradesh will be at the mercy of FCI if the issue is not sorted out soon…”

The gravity of the situation has only increased with MP Takam Sanjay telling this writer that there had been a fresh Chinese Army incursion in the Tawang sector as recently as a month ago. “Yes, there was a Chinese Army incursion in the Tawang sector a few weeks ago following which our Chief Minister and I met the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister and apprised them of the matter,” Takam Sanjay said. The incursions, he said, had taken place in the Logutang, Choona and Zemitang areas in the Tawang sector. With Chinese interests in the region well known, New Delhi cannot take anything lying down in so far as people’s sentiments in Arunachal Pradesh are concerned.

(courtesy: The Sentinel)