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Big bucks for border fence

New Delhi, July 10: The budget outlay for the Union home ministry is up by almost a fourth, with the sharpest hike relating to border projects such as the fencing of the Bangladesh border.

The allocation for Rajnath Singh’s ministry is Rs 65,745.28 crore against the revised estimates of Rs 53,067.28 crore last fiscal. Some of the notable increases include a five-fold rise in funds for fencing the Bangladesh border —— Rs 500 crore against the Rs 100 crore last fiscal.

“In order to strengthen and modernise border infrastructure, a sum of Rs 2,250 crore has been set aside,” finance minister Arun Jaitley said in his maiden budget speech.

National security and the sanctity of the country’s borders have been priorities for the BJP, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi had repeatedly sounded the alarm on illegal Bangladeshi immigration during the general election campaign.

Funding for construction of roads along the Bangladesh border has risen from Rs 395 crore to Rs 458 crore. The allocation for the India-China border is Rs 300 crore, up from Rs 95 crore last year.

A Rs 863-crore increase in the budgetary outlay for the Border Security Force is another indicator of the Modi government’s focus on international borders.

These moves come within days of foreign minister Sushma Swaraj’s goodwill visit to Dhaka and amid signals that Modi wants to ratify the land-swap agreement with Bangladesh despite opposition from within the BJP’s Assam unit.

R.N. Ravi, a former special director of the Intelligence Bureau who handled the eastern frontier for over two decades, said a comprehensive plan for fencing the border was overdue.

“It was being done piecemeal, so taking up fencing comprehensively is good,” Ravi said.

Modi’s imprint is also seen in a small but signification allocation: Rs 150 crore for the construction of marine police stations and jetties and the purchase of boats.

Soon after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, the UPA government had directed a tightening of coastal security under the navy’s leadership. The coastal states were asked to set up marine police stations with central assistance.

Besides the Rs 2,250 crore for border infrastructure, the government has also allocated Rs 990 crore towards the “socio-economic development” of border villages. Sources said this involved the establishment of schools, banks and hospitals and aid to farmers.

Police modernisation gets Rs 3,000 crore, against 1,848 crore in the last fiscal. Along with a war memorial, Jaitley also announced a “national police memorial”, setting aside Rs 50 crore.

“The nation is equally indebted to the officers and jawans of the police forces, including the central armed police forces who are constantly engaging with the enemy within,” Jaitley said.

One of the government’s biggest challenges has been the persistent Maoist threat in seven central and eastern states. Jaitley said he had earmarked “adequate funds” as additional central assistance for development projects in Maoist-hit districts.