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Army veterans for overall development of Punjab’s border areas

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New Delhi, July 08: The army veterans are of the opinion that border areas of Punjab need to be fully developed to thwart Pakistan's nefarious designs.

Most Indian areas bordering Pakistan survive in a hostile environment, but Islamabad always has sinister plans for Punjab.

Army veterans for overall development of Punjab’s border areas

"Apart from Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab is more vulnerable than other border areas of Rajasthan and Gujarat because of propagandist interventions by Pakistan that led to a decade long, debilitating terrorism and other issues of drug trafficking, illegal trade of arms and crime," says Lt. Gen. (retd.) JS Cheema, who commanded an Army Corps in the Punjab's border areas.

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Punjab has approximately 553- kilometer International Border (IB) with Pakistan, comprising the districts of Gurdaspur, Amritsar, Taran Taran, and Firozepur. These districts have a population ranging more than 6 million with a rural/urban divide standing at approximately 70/30 percent, about 20 percent of these constitutes the border belt.

The border areas of Punjab have well-developed infrastructure and connectivity, especially when compared to other states having borders with Pakistan. Within Punjab, the border areas of Ferozepur are less developed in comparison to Amritsar and Gurdaspur. The effort of the government to develop roads and bridges in these areas is augmented by the Indian Army as an operational necessity.

Lt. Gen. Cheema says still Punjab's border areas lack a robust education structure, health structure, skill development, and well-balanced irrigation network.

"These deficiencies are impinging on the socio-economic development of the region. There are villages on the border, more so in the Ferozepur district where even drinking water has too much arsenic, not to speak of lack of proper sewerage etcetera," says the army veteran.

Col (retd.) Jaibans Singh points out that the drug menace in Punjab is the residue of terrorism and it needs to be tackled by a multi-agency approach.

"On one hand, a multi-agency approach involving the border troops, police, narcotics squads etc. is required to target drug networks; on the other hand, gainful employment of the youth, keeping students preoccupied in activities like sports and culture, and removal of social stigma attached with drugs are also need of the hour," says Col. Jaibans.

Lt. Gen Cheema adds that the army does carry out sports events and other activities in border areas but these efforts need to be coordinated with the government and other agencies.

Col. Jaibans says emphasises on ensuring that the border population stays in its home instead of migrating due to better prospects.

"There is a necessity to take industry to the doorstep of the border people. People are more vulnerable not industries, hence, if people are available then why should industries not be set up? In modern warfare the inner areas are more dangerous than the borders. The initiative should come from the government for opening such small scale industries in border areas that feed the larger industries established more into the hinterland," says the retired Colonel.

He adds that there is also a need to look beyond the government and see what the society can do in support of fellow citizens suffering the vagaries of life on the border.

"Understand that prosperity and settled population along the borders has a salutary effect on the morale of the Armed Forces that would be called upon to fight there," says Col Jaibans.

Left. Gen. Cheema adds that the defence industry can give good leverage since moving it closer to the border would greatly reduce the logistics of moving and maintaining weapon systems.

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"The government has identified nodal points for industry in the border belt but has failed in development of the infrastructure. As a result, it is not the nodal points but areas under private builders that have come up as commercial hubs, leading to unplanned haphazard development," says the retired Lt. Gen.

He says that starting military tourism along the border areas can be taken up by the government.

"Border areas are repository to great battles and stories of individual courage, which can be highlighted through military tourism. The tourists should be taken to sites of great battles and memorials where the event is relived through light and sound shows etcetera," says Lt. Gen Cheema.

It's notable that both the army veterans had recently spoken in detail on these points at a discussion organised by the Centre for Socio-Cultural Studies (CSCS), a Punjab-based Think Tank.

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