Border buffer to China

Army to build roads, upgrade frontier infrastructure

By Imran Ahmed Siddiqui
  • Published 14.10.17
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Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman at the India-China border at Nathu La on October 7. (PTI)

New Delhi, Oct. 13: The army today decided to step up infrastructure and build better roads along the 4,000km China border, apparently to pre-empt future Doklam-like standoffs or Chinese incursions and ensure better deployment of the force.

The decision to "enhance capability" came today at the ongoing army commanders' conference, the first since the standoff with Chinese troops on the tri-junction with Bhutan.

"The Doklam standoff has forced us to rethink our border strategy with China. Keeping in mind the continuous threat of infiltration from the Chinese side, we have decided to step up border infrastructure, including roads, to thwart any such move," a senior official at army headquarters said.

A defence ministry official said: "The main objective behind building better infrastructure along the India-China border is to ensure faster deployment and better maintenance of frontier posts."

Indian and Chinese troops had been locked in a 10-week standoff - their longest border spat in three decades - on a plateau that sits at the tri-junction of their borders with Bhutan. Both sides agreed to withdraw troops on August 28, after a 72-day impasse.

The weeklong army commanders' conference started on October 9 and is being chaired by the army chief, General Bipin Rawat. Lieutenant generals and senior defence ministry officials are attending it.

India's military preparedness along the China border is among the key issues being reviewed.

The army today also decided to connect four mountain passes in Uttarakhand by road by 2020. "Niti, Lipu Lekh, Thang La 1 and Tsangchokla will be connected by 2020 on priority," the director-general of staff duties, Lt Gen. Vijay Singh, said.

"The issues highlighted or discussed at the conference related to infrastructure and capability development along the borders," Singh added.

The Border Roads Organisation, a defence ministry outfit, is the main agency that builds and maintains roads, advance landing grounds, tunnels and bridges near the borders.

India is now building 73 roads of operational significance along the China border but the pace has been slow. Intelligence reports say that China too has been enhancing its border infrastructure by building roads, bridges, a railway network and airports.

Beijing had last year objected to India's plans for an 1,800km highway along Arunachal Pradesh's borders with China and Myanmar, from Tawang in the west to Vijaynagar in the east.

Sources said that tensions were running higher than usual on the China border in the aftermath of Doklam. The army has identified over 10 spots along the Ladakh frontier where Indian and Chinese troops often face off.

Both India and China have for years been talking to sort out their boundary dispute and both have been ramping up their border infrastructure, often leading to skirmishes.

"Poor border infrastructure on our side comes in the way of countering the threat from China, which has better roads and infrastructure. This is why better roads are needed to bolster our preparedness to counter any such threat," the ministry official said.