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 here 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 gave the order in a meeting attended by the chiefs of the army and the air force and the heads of the Border Roads and Defence Estates organisations today.
“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 Antony has having told the officials.
Antony also asked his deputy, minister of state Jitendra Singh, to coordinate with the state governments of the east and Northeast to speed up military infrastructure projects.
The immediate reason for giving such an 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 armed forces. More Chinese troop positions are served by all-weather roads, for example, than Indian military posts.
The Indian military establishment has been concerned with riots in lower Assam and the dangers posed by a combination of civil dis-ruption with military threats.
There are 61 roads spread across the Himalayan states of Arunachal, Sikkim, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir (Ladakh) that have been earmarked for development as “India-China border roads”. Of these, there are three in Sikkim (total length 55.74km) and 14 in Aruna-chal (total length 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, has complained that forest and wildlife clearances were holding up work. But earlier this year, the ministry of environment and forests told the defence ministry that it was relaxing norms for afforestation.
Now on, defence establishments are exempt for afforesting two acres of land for every acre they acquire. But they will have to afforest at least an acre for an acre. This is still not satisfactory to the defence establishment which favours a 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. The 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 are Ziro, Vijaynagar, Pasighat, Tuting, Mechuka and Walong.
In addition, the Indian Air Force has planned to expand and develop its airfield at Panagarh in West Bengal. The IAF is preparing to base C-130J special forces troop-carrier aircraft that it is acquiring from the US in Panagarh. The aircraft will operate out of Panagarh and fly mostly to airfields and ALGs in the Northeast.
Antony also asked the agencies for a separate review of the pilot project called “Habitat” under which the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is involved in testing special shelters (artificial igloos) for troops in the northeast Himalayas.