Defence projects coming up within 100km of the border with China will no longer require the approval of the central environment ministry, the government said on Thursday, virtually clearing the way for dozens of strategic infrastructure plans languishing for years.
Coming at a time when China has sought to reach out to India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the move is likely to rile Beijing which in the past has bristled at any suggestion of New Delhi trying to bolster its border infrastructure.
The new policy will be rolled out soon, Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar said. Under the policy, the defence ministry will just have to get the nod of the concerned state government where it is planning projects, stripping away many layers of bureaucratic hurdles.
"Today we met with defence ministry officials at their requests because lot of their projects were held up and were getting delayed approval,” Javadekar said.
“The issue was how to ensure that there won't be delay. The answer is policy-based decision.”
India shares a 4,056-km border with China – stretches of which are disputed – straddling the five states of Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim.
Most of India’s border states are a picture of neglect, where strategic infrastructure projects have for years been caught up in bureaucratic red tape and stringent environment laws.
For instance, Arunachal Pradesh, a territory that China claims as its own, still has no airport, the power supply is erratic and telecommunications are far from reliable.
That is in sharp contrast to the modern infrastructure on the other side of the border. China's five highways running to the frontier, backed by railway and modern telecommunications networks provide Beijing the capability to mobilise troops and equipment within hours.
Distrust lingers between the two economic powerhouses, although ties have eased over strong bilateral trade.
"Delays in defence projects were due to the case-by-case decision-making process,” Javadekar tweeted, referring to the existing method for giving approvals for projects.
"Instead of case-by-case delayed method of approval, we'r making simpler, transparent & predictable process of approvals," the Minister said.
Javadekar said he will discuss the matter with Prime Minister Modi and Defence Minister Arun Jaitley and "the government will have that policy in place so that the clearances will be more on fast-track without compromising the environmental issues".
Earlier in the month, the government granted clearance to a radar station at Narcondam in Andaman and Nicobar Islands, an eco-sensitive zone, and a naval base in Karwar, Karnataka.
India also wants to build more than 50 new paramilitary outposts along the international border in Arunachal Pradesh, as part of plans to improve border management along a stretch that remains prone to occasional incursions by Chinese troops.