IR officials rebuff Chinese statement on Bhalukpong-Tawang Rail Line; says the Project was pending since British times

Indian Railway officials expressed sharp disapproval and criticism over Chinese statements on Bhalukpong-Tawang Rail line proposal and sharply came down on Chinese stating that the region is traditionally and culturally more an Indian than any other part. Rail line proposal connecting Bhalukpong with Tawang on the Rangiya Division of N.F.Railway was existing since British times including the 249-kilometre Broad Gauge line between North Lakhimpur-Bame-Silapathar section between Pasighat Airport and Rupa in Arunachal Pradesh.

Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh, India: China in a surprised manner, asked India to exercise “restraint” on its plan to link the district of Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh with a Railway network, saying any “unilateral action” might “complicate” the unresolved border issue.  However officials from Indian Railways rebuffed China’s undue claims and said that the plan to connnect Tawang was a century old dating back to British rule and Tawang is an integral part of India since centuries and said that Chinese officials should properly understand the history in its correct form, and should not dilute the relationships with a country like India.

Senior Railway officials of Indian Railways objected to Chinese statement wherein it used sentences like “show restraint, and refrain from unilateral actions that might further complicate…”, and the Railway Board officials said that this undue rhetoric by China is unwanted and uncalled for. China should learn that the Railway line proposal was pending since British times, and the then British officials working on the Northeast Frontier Railway tried to lay railway line from Bhalukpon to Tawang (which section falls on Rangiya Division of NFT). However the survey of railway line got pended for various reasons on different occasions due to cost escalations and Budgetary shortfalls, and stated that Chinese statement is strictly unwanted and said that it should take back their statement immediately.

Chinese officials in a statement last week said “we hope that the Indian side can exercise caution, show restraint and refrain from unilateral actions that might further complicate the question so as to create a sound condition for enhancing mutual trust between China and India and promoting proper resolution of the boundary question,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said. “China’s position on eastern section of the China-India boundary is consistent and clear. At present, the two sides are working to resolve the territorial dispute through negotiation and consultation,” the ministry said.

China has in recent days upped its rhetoric on claims to Arunachal Pradesh, which it says is Southern Tibet, and even warned India of “serious damage” to ties if New Delhi allows Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama to visit the state next week. The ministry yesterday warned New Delhi that the visit of the Dalai Lama, the highest figure in Tibetan Buddhism, will “come down to India to make a choice”.

China should learn to respect India’s sovereignty, its strong history and cultural connections of the region and should restrain itself from such illogical statements which will contribute for betterment of bilateral relationship between the two countries, said Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Mr.Pema Khandu during the nine-day mega cultural event, ‘Rashtriya Sanskriti Mahotsava’, showcasing traditional folk dance and music of Tawang.

Tawang, which happens to be the birthplace in 1683 of the sixth Dalai Lama, is at the centre of Tibetan Buddhism and emerged as a friction point between India and China relations since 1950s.  While India and China are in discussions to resolve the dispute that covers the 3,488-km-long Line of Actual Control (LAC), Beijing claims Arunachal Pradesh as part of Southern Tibet, and India asserts that the dispute also covers the ‘Aksai Chin’ area, which was occupied by China during 1962.

The ministry said the two sides have “agreed that pending final settlement, both sides will work together to properly manage the dispute” and preserve peace in the border areas. The Chinese reaction to the possible rail network and the Dalai Lama’s visit to Tawang was the third time in recent weeks the foreign ministry has aired its objections.

Tawang is of immense strategic value to India – both culturally, geographically and historically. The hilly region close to the Sino-India border was also in the news earlier this month when Dai Bingguo, a former Chinese Special Representative for India-China border talks, said the border dispute can be resolved if New Delhi accepts Beijing’s claim over Tawang. “If the Indian side takes care of China’s concerns in the eastern sector of their border, the Chinese side will respond accordingly and address India’s concerns elsewhere,” Dai had told the Chinese media in an interview. But the proposal was rejected as impractical by Indian officials as Tawang is an integral part of India and has sent many Parliamentarians in every national elections since 1950s.

Lian Xiangmin, Director of contemporary research of China’s state-run Tibetology Research Centre, last month said, “Tawang is part of Tibet and Tibet is part of China. So Tawang is part of China. There is not much problem here.” India, giving a push to its strategic interests, is exploring the feasibility to link Tawang with a rail network.

The government has asked Minister of State for Railways Manoj Sinha and Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju, who is also a Member of Parliament from Arunachal West seat, to explore the feasibility of a rail network in the remote area.

The two ministers will tour the state along with Railway Officials from the N.F.Railway to study the viability of connecting Tawang with Bhalukpong – the last station of the Railways on Assam-Arunachal Pradesh boundary at a distance of 378 kms – and to commence the final location survey of a new broad gauge line connecting the two cities. N.F.Railway officials stated that the survey of connecting Bhalukpong with Tawang was was pending since 1920s due to budget constraints and the same will now be carried out.

It takes 18 hours from Guwahati in Assam to reach Tawang by road. Guwahati is the nearest major city and Tawang residents depend heavily on Guwahati for medical emergencies, education, logistics, commercial and trade activities.

The other broad gauge railway line that will be part of the survey will be the 249-kilometre North Lakhimpur-Bame- Silapathar section, which is between Pasighat airport and Rupa in Arunachal.