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Prod for N-E border boost

Antony

New Delhi, Nov. 19: The defence ministry has asked its agencies to hasten work on building border infrastructure in the Northeast “in view of current security concerns”, a senior official said today.

The order was given by defence minister A.K. Antony after the ministry of environment and forests relaxed norms to allot land for strategic roads and installations to reinforce the infrastructure for the armed forces deployed on the frontier with China.

Antony was at a meeting attended by the chiefs of the army and the air force and the heads of the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) and Defence Estates Organisations this afternoon.

“We need to look beyond probable dates of completion in view of the current security scenario. The time has come to look at implementation of deliverables,” a ministry official quoted the minister has having said at the meeting.

Antony also asked his deputy, minister of state Jitendra Singh, to co-ordinate with the state governments in the east and Northeast to speed-up projects.

The immediate reason for the order was not spelt out. But the defence establishment has been watching with concern the pace at which the Chinese military is expanding.

Antony is understood to have noted that the infrastructure of the Chinese military on the frontier is superior to that of the Indian forces. More Chinese troop positions are served by all-weather roads, for example, than Indian military posts.

The Indian military establishment has also been worried by riots in lower Assam and the dangers posed by a combination of civil disruptions and military threats.

There are 61 roads spread across the Himalayan states of Arunachal, Sikkim, Uttarakhand, Himachal and Jammu & Kashmir (Ladakh) that have been earmarked for development as “India-China border roads”. Of these, three are in Sikkim (length 55.74km) and 14 in Arunachal (922.21km).

All the roads were to be completed this year. But till September, only 417km in Arunachal and 47km in Sikkim had been surfaced. Work on many stretches is now likely to go beyond 2016, more than four years after the probable dates of completion.

The agencies, mainly the BRO, have complained that forest and wildlife clearances were holding up work. But earlier this year, the environment ministry said it was relaxing norms for afforestation.

Defence establishments now have to afforest at least an acre for every acre they acquire, down from two acres before the relaxation. But this is still not satisfactory for the defence ministry, which favours total exemption from environment and forest clearances citing military concerns for about 50km from the border.

The air force was also asked to create a committee under the Vice Chief of Air Staff to expedite work on advanced landing grounds (ALGs) in the Northeast. ALGs are airfields near the border that are on tough terrain but are intended to make deployment of troops and stores and evacuation of casualties faster. The six ALGs in the Northeast that are of immediate concern include Ziro, Vijaynagar, Pasighat, Tuting, Mechuka and Walong.

In addition, the Indian Air Force has planned to expand and develop its airfield at Panagarh in Bengal. The IAF is preparing to base the C-130J special forces troop-carrier aircraft, being acquired from the US, in Panagarh. The aircraft will operate out of Panagarh and fly mostly to airfields and ALGs in the Northeast.