(Reuters representational image)
By Pradeep Kumar
Beyond the Horizon
While the effort is on to connect remote mountainous areas by rail link, Ministry of Road Transport & Highways is also working towards the avowed goal of “seamless Northeast”. It has set a target of awarding projects worth Rs 1 lakh crore in the next five years in the region. The implementation of the road projects has been entrusted to various agencies, including the BRO under MoD, National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) and National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd as areas like Tawang and Bame near the LAC are likely to be connected by rail.
Four-line Bilaspur-Manali-Leh rail line: Surveys are underway for this line that would cost a humongous Rs 2 trillion with the MoD footing the bill, Financial Express reported on 25.06.18. The mega 498-km rail projects were approved by Cabinet Committee on Security in December, 2015. At a height of 3,300 metres, the railway line, once operational, would be the highest in the world, overtaking China’s Qinghai-Tibet Railway. It is one of the four strategic railway lines being built by Indian Railways to fortify India’s borders with China. The others being 378-km Missamari-Tenga-Tawang, 249-km North Lakhimpur-Bame (Along)-Silapathar and 227-km Pasighat-Tezu-Parsuram Kund-Rupai. These lines aim at facilitating troop and armament movement to frontier areas at short notice.
With the ongoing final location survey (FLS) for the four lines expected to cost more than Rs 2 lakh crore, Indian Railways is expected to submit final report to the MoD by March, 2020.
While a total length of around 1,350-km was initially estimated, the length of railway line to Tawang would be reduced to 170-km from the earlier 377-km with tunnels. On the other side, China has an operational railway line connecting Shigatse in Tibet region, around 1,250-km from Indian border. This line is expected to be extended to Dromo (close to Doklam) near Sikkim and Nyingtri in north Arunachal Pradesh.
The proposed lines are in difficult terrain and challenging geological conditions given that the Himalayas are young and fragile mountains. Though the projects are very capital-intensive in nature, no traffic is expected on these routes.
The railways is using advance techniques such as photogrammetry, drone survey and digital elevation models for the survey, but it will take another five years for the lines to be built once the survey reports are submitted.
However, India is still losing to China in border infrastructure war, Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan writes in 21.09.18 edition of The Diplomat.
New Delhi faces the same old challenges in this realm after Doklam crisis. It has been a year since India and China ended the 73-day border crisis in Doklam. And for all the focus on the crisis itself and its implications for Sino-Indian relations, it is worth recalling that along their border, Doklam is arguably an exception where Indian military may be perceived to have a slight advantage over the Chinese military because of its slightly better infrastructure there.
Relatively speaking, however, the infrastructure on the rest of the border is quite appalling. Indeed, unless India accelerates pace of the physical border infrastructure build-up, New Delhi will face serious difficulties in any future confrontation with China.
Indian vice chief of army staff, in his statement to Parliament’s Standing Committee on Defence, voiced serious concerns on the lack of adequate allocation of funds for the Army for 2018-19. He pointed to the “large number of Chinese strategic roads and infrastructural development along the northern borders” and made a case for bigger resource allocation, given that the sanctioned budget for infrastructure development was running massively short.
The current state of affairs with regard to the border infrastructure is the result of a flawed policy that was in place for several decades. The political, civil bureaucracy and military leadership in India believed that building infrastructure in Sino-Indian border area would actually compromise India’s security because it would facilitate any Chinese invasion. Reports suggest that incursions on the Sino-Indian may be coming down – there were reportedly about 500 transgressions in 2015, 350 in 2017, and around 200 up to July 2018.
Though India’s infrastructure development is slow, this has not stopped Chinese media outlets such as Global Times from arguing that New Delhi is being proactive in building border posts and other infrastructure. But New Delhi has little choice but to continue pushing its border infrastructure, though there is little hope that it will be very much faster.
Former army chief Gen Bikram Singh, though, optimistically says: “The terrain is arduous and treacherous along the border.” He once headed the Eastern Command. “Laying roads in the mountains is a challenging and time-consuming process. At places, the soil is such that the roads need constant maintenance. Vast stretches get washed away with every rain. Labour issues and non-availability of local resources keep the contractors away, hence the BRO has to take on most of the work.”
Gen Singh believes things are changing, given the Govt’s focussed commitment and the realisation that developing infrastructure is crucial for ensuring effective defence and territorial integrity. “Logistics infrastructure, like advance landing ground, helipads, ammunition dumps, staging areas and so on, to support combat operations are being given priority,” he says.
“The earlier school of thought precluded the development of border areas on a somewhat misplaced premise that the adversary would exploit it for launching offensives. Thankfully that got shelved in the early 1980s. Roads are a precursor to development and prosperity, and infrastructure, both operational and logistical, are critical for launching and sustaining combat power in the mountains.”
Another former Chief of Army Staff-cum-former Arunachal Pradesh governor JJ Singh on 30.11.18 at Itanagar said that building border roads pose numerous challenges due to tough hilly terrains, unpredictable weather and rains for about eight to nine months.
His response came in response to a question from this editor: 1962 era still prevails as roads ends before 50 to 70-km of border in Arunachal Pradesh even now.
“Roads are being built to Bumla (Tawang district) and Kibitho (Anjaw district) passes. But many misinterpret saying that China has built good border roads. But they are ignorant of China’s topography, which is mostly plain, low heights hills and receives rainfalls 30%, if it is 70% in Arunachal. The border road pioneers deserve salutation.” This I say from my vast experience of intensive tour to border areas in the past.
But, the slow pace of road building has proved wrong the adage: “when there a will, there is way”.