By Pradeep Kumar
Beyond the Horizon
India is improving road and rail connectivity to strategically located China border to facilitate quick mobilisation of troops and better defence and 4.9-km road-cum-rail Bogibeel Bridge across mighty Brahmaputra in Assam, longest rail-cum-road bridge in India is ready for inauguration by Prime Minister on Dec 25 to fulfill the dream of former PM, later Atal Behari Vajpayee.
PM Modi to fulfill Vajpayee’s dream
While this bridge would enable the army to take men and supplies from its Dibrugarh base in Assam to Sino-Indian border, numerous large bridges over perennial rivers, tunnels, rail lines and highways have been built or in progress to overcome communication hazard, particularly to Sino-India border. Arunachal Pradesh shares 1,080-km of total 3,500-km border India shares with China.
India’s defeat during 1962 Chinese war was mainly due to lack of road to borders, but movement to border areas would get a new thrust on completion of many ongoing roads; 333.5-km Bhalukpong-Tenga-Tawang railway line, Sela Pass tunnel; 248-km North Lakhimpur-Bame-Along railway line and 226-km Pasighat-Tezu-Parsuramkund-Rupai railway line; Trans-Arunachal Highway (TAH) which is scheduled for completion by 2021 as a two-lane 1811-km trunk route to link Tawang in north-western tip to Kanubari in south-eastern end of Arunachal to finally join NH-52 near Akajan beside Bogibeel Bridge near Dibrugarh and Hukanjuri road along NH-315A.
Tunnel: The Border Roads Organisation (BRO) had sought land for two-lane tunnels bypassing mountainous Sela Pass at 13,700 ft to shorten 496-km Guwahati-Tawang road via Bhalukpong along Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border by 6.5-km. This would save travel time by close to an hour since the present single-lane road has a number of hairpin bends. “The new alignment of the road to Tawang involves construction of two tunnels (12.37-km), one 475m and the other 1.79 km long at an altitude of between 11,000 and 12,000 ft, to bypass Sela Pass and a number of hairpin bends. Union MoS (Railways) Manoj Sinha had begun final location survey in April last for the project worth more than Rs 70,000 crore including around Rs 100 crore for each km of railway tunnel. The broad gauge line till Bhalukpong about 290 km away is considered the gateway to Tawang.
TAH projects: The GoAP had sought the Centre’s intervention in July 2018 for its completion.
Arunachal Deputy Chief Minister Chowna Mein, accompanied by Union MoS (Home Affairs) Kiren Rijiju had called on Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari at New Delhi and apprised him of the deteriorating condition of Potin-Pangin portion of the NH and the need for early completion of the TAH which extends from Tawang to Kanubari in the east.
Other strategic lines for which the surveys have begun are Bhalukpong-Tenga-Tawang, North Lakhimpur-Bame-Along-Silapatha and Pasighat-Tezu-Parsuramkund-Rupai. While Ministry of Defence (MoD) will fund strategic lines, the railway ministry has been executing projects worth Rs 90,000 crore in NE to put on track the creaky infrastructure along the LAC. These include surveys for seven new 594-km broad-gauge lines in Arunachal Pradesh alone. Projects worth another Rs 3,000 crore are being implemented in other Himalayan states, including Jammu and Kashmir, that share border with China.
While 9.15-km Dhola-Sadiya bridge across Lohit River in Assam opened on 26.05.17 to serve as panacea by improving road connectivity to Arunachal Pradesh. The bridge is designed to allow passage of Indian Army’s 60-tonne Arjun and T-72 main battle tanks, other important infrastructure projects are 9-km tunnel at Zojila pass, 3.5-km tunnel at Sonmarg; 10.9-km Chenani-Nashri tunnel on Jammu-Srinagar highway; 498-km Bilaspur-Manali-Leh railway line; 44-km Agartala-Udaipur new railway line; 21-km Dudhnoi-Mendipathar railway line.
It may be recalled that Home Minister Rajnath Singh had chaired a meeting of five Himalayan states in Gangtok to discuss development of roads, bridges, railway lines and other infrastructure along 3,488 km-long Sino-Indian border. This was in the wake of India’s refusal to participate in Beijing’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ conference and diplomatic tussle over the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh.
It is evident that India is in no mood to kowtow to China as the GoI intends to improve road and railway connectivity in border areas on a war-footing to allow quick mobilisation of troops and a stronger defence barrier. The present GoI led by PM Narendra Modi has been focusing on improved connectivity within NE due to strategic and political reasons. Rising tensions with China have only made the GoI to bolster its efforts.
Surveys for four new strategic lines, identified by Ministry of Defence (MoD), have been undertaken by the railways since Sino-India eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation at Doklam. Funded by the MoD, these strategic lines are likely to be used mainly by the armed forces.
However, former army chief Gen V.P. Malik agrees that border infrastructure need to be built on an urgent basis. “Unless the armed forces are adequately mobiled, it is not easy to defend these areas. Accessibility of remote areas is a must for defending them,” he tells Outlook. Pointing out that road projects in the region have had a poor record of implementation and no road has come up except one to the border in Lohit, he says, “The BRO has not been functioning well. Funds have been an issue. Timelines have been overshot. It is imperative to build roads and we have to do it as soon as possible.”
Taking the government’s promises of building railway lines and roads along the border soon with some skepticism, he says, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Unfortunately, past experience has not been very good. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.”