Border villagers thank PM for I-Day invitation

They include 21 sarpanches and their spouses from two tribal districts of Kinnaur and Lahaul-Spiti, both bordering China, besides two field officials, report by Ashutosh Kumar

Himachal villagers living near the border with China are both overjoyed and overwhelmed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s gesture to invite them as special guests for his Independence Day speech at the historic Red Fort in Delhi.

“We are not the last natives living near the borders. We are the first line of the country’s defence–the Chowkidars. We are really thankful to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who thought of making us part of Independence Day celebrations—India’s most prestigious event at New Delhi’s Red Fort” a sarpanch from Himachal Pradesh’s Kinnaur district said.

Over 75 years after Independence, the Sarpanches from 662 villages on the China border in Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh covered under the Centre’s Vibrant Villages Programme (VVP) have reached Delhi to be part of the national event.

They include 21 sarpanches and their spouses from two tribal districts of Kinnaur and Lahaul-Spiti, both bordering China, besides two field officials.

The Vibrant Villages Programme, first announced in the 2022 Budget as part of the Centre’s policy to upgrade infrastructure in areas along the China border, was launched by Home Minister Amit Shah in the border village of Kibithu in Arunachal Pradesh in April 2023.

In Delhi on Monday–one the eve of I-Day function, Pradeep Negi , Sarpanch from Chitkul said “it’s a huge honour for the PRI representatives—who represent  grass-root democracy having been invited to Delhi by Prime Minister Modi to see how India has progressed during these years of Post-Independence’.

“We are tribal and very shy people. We hardly come-out of our areas to be in Delhi or ever been part of such an event. Today, we feel so touched” he said as Negi spoke at a function organised by the ministry of tribal affairs where union minister Arjun Munda was Chief Minister.

One sarpanch from each state and Union territory of Ladakh was invited to speak and share the stories of development of their villages.

Under this centrally sponsored scheme, 2,967 villages in 46 blocks of 19 districts, abutting the country’s northern border in Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh, have been identified for “comprehensive development”. Of these, about 662 villages have been identified for the first phase of the programme, said an official of the Tribal ministry

Negi drew the attention of the tribal affairs minister towards the  need for strengthening health infrastructure and setting-up good schools in the border village to stop migration of the local communities.

“We are standing as guards at the borders. There is a pressing need for ensuring good schools, facilities like doctors at the health institutions and a good communications network. I also thank ITBP –an organisation that is rendering an excellent service .They are our best friends and guides. They keep updating  locals on the country’s advancements” he said.

Another Sarpanch from Ladakh, whose panchayat includes Galwan valley, conveyed his gratitude to Prime Minister Modi for making Ladakh as a union territory after which the area has seen a massive development and road infrastructure. Tourism has got a big boost in the area, he said.

Among 21 sarpanches, 13 are women from both districts of Lahaul –Spiti and Kinnaur.

One of them Tashi Dolkar from Lulung Panchayat of Kaza when contacted said “ coming to Delhi for Independence Day function was a life-time experience .I never had even a dream about being part of this great moment and seeing Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing the nation from the ramparts of Red-Fort” ,she said over phone .

The Modi government has been reaching out to villagers in the border areas. Union minister for power R.K. Singh had visited Kinnaur in June this year and interacted with locals in the Vibrant villages at Chitkul, the last village on the international border.

The Union Minister heard the grievances of the local villagers and assured them of initiating action for the development of infrastructure and basic amenities including education, health and a communication network. He also sanctioned a one MW solar power station for Chitkul.

(India Narrative)

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