From across India’s long and hazy Himalayan border up north, Chinese radio ripples into Indian homes with a mixed fare of multi-lingual programmes, including news, commentary and even Mandarin tutorials. It’s an airwave ‘incursion’ India is fending off with a sweeping border expansion of the state broadcaster, All-India Radio.
In pockets with weak Indian signals, listeners are greeted by Chinese radio programmes in Nepalese and Hindi, riding Nepal’s growing FM network. Chinese radio can be heard in places in Ladakh in the northwest to Sitamarhi in the east and further towards the Northeast.
Along a nebulous frontline that is otherwise fiercely guarded by both sides, freely accessible Chinese broadcasts could effectively enhance China’s sphere of influence. For instance, news from Chinese radio could give an entirely different spin to events in India. China and Nepal have a comprehensive broadcast treaty, which gives China this access.
Three years ago, the state-run China Radio International (CRI) acquired “downlink” permission to “rebroadcast” its programmes across Nepal. The CRI has also set up a local radio station right in Kathmandu, its programmes relayed by over 200 smaller Nepali FM stations.
To reinforce its own airwaves, India’s information and broadcasting ministry is mounting a Rs 400-crore plan.
The sanctioned ramp-up so far looks impressive, including a special Jammu and Kashmir (J-K) Phase 3 and a new Northeast upgrade package.
New infrastructure includes about 100 new 1-kilowatt-powered FM towers, four 10-kilowatt transmitters in Himbotingla (Kargil), Green Ridge (Uri) and Naushera in J&K and a recent acquiring of 17 sites in the Northeast for 19 FM stations. In 15 of these sites that will cater to remote areas, building construction has been completed in 15 sites in record time. To ensure an airwave blanket that will not crack in bad weather, high-end servers are being installed in 48 sites.
The target is to deepen AIR’s FM reach to 60% of the country’s territory from 40% now in the next two and a half years and then the whole country in five years, whose progress is being strictly monitored by the ministry.