NEW DELHI: India on Tuesday announced the setting up of a top panel to fast-track infrastructure projects in areas close to the Line of Actual Control (LAC) where the Indian and Chinese armies have been locked in a lingering standoff for almost three years, and negotiations are on to end the stalemate, officials familiar with the matter said.
The decision to set up a committee of secretaries to accelerate the projects was taken at a high-level meeting chaired by defence minister Rajnath Singh to review the progress on a raft of infrastructure projects along the China border, the defence ministry said in a statement. The projects being executed in forward areas involve several ministries including defence; road transport and highways; environment, forest and climate change; railways and communications, and power and new and renewable energy.
The secretaries of these ministries will form part of the new committee, the officials said. It will meet at frequent intervals to monitor the progress of different projects, they added.
At the meeting attended by several Cabinet ministers, chief ministers of border states and the top military leadership, Singh called for accelerating pending projects on top priority while advocating the whole-of-nation approach to strengthen national security.
India needs to adopt a multidimensional and multimodal approach towards infrastructure development along the India-China border, said former director general of military operations Lieutenant General Vinod Bhatia (retd).
“This is important not only for security but also for economic development, tourism, health and education. The committee of secretaries will provide focused impetus to infrastructure development in a timebound manner,” Bhatia added.
Those who attended the meeting included minister of road transport and highways Nitin Gadkari, minister of railways, communications, electronics and information technology Ashwini Vaishnaw, minister of power and new and renewable energy RK Singh, minister for environment, forest and climate change Bhupender Yadav, and national security adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval.
Others present included Arunachal Pradesh CM Pema Khandu, Uttarakhand CM Pushkar Singh Dhami, Ladakh lieutenant governor Brigadier BD Mishra (retd), chief of defence staff General Anil Chauhan, IAF chief Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari, army chief General Manoj Pande and defence secretary Giridhar Aramane.
The development comes at a time when the army is building infrastructure at a rapid pace in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh with focus on better living experience and improved facilities for soldiers, conservation of modern weapons and equipment deployed there, and supporting faster movement of men and material to deal with any contingency amid the ongoing standoff with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
India has inducted thousands of extra troops and modern military weaponry into the Ladakh sector to counter the Chinese military build-up after the standoff began in May 2020, and the changed dynamics along the contested LAC have necessitated the infrastructure push aimed at enhancing efficiency of the army’s deployments.
The steps taken by the army to support its forward deployments along LAC include building of modular shelters for troops deployed at heights of up to 18,000 feet, habitat for reserve troops in rear locations, storage facilities for tanks, artillery guns and other equipment, underground facilities for ammunition storage, airfields, and new roads, bridges and tunnels in difficult terrain for improved connectivity.
In January 2022, former army chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane said the silver lining to the border crisis was that India had used it as an opportunity to fast-track infrastructure development, undertake doctrinal reviews and fill operational voids through emergency purchases.
Despite four rounds of disengagement from Galwan Valley, Pangong Tso, Gogra (PP-17A) and Hot Springs (PP-15), the Indian and Chinese armies still have more than 60,000 troops each and advanced weaponry deployed in the Ladakh theatre. The Indian and Chinese armies have held 17 rounds of talks so far, but problems at Depsang in Daulet Beg Oldi sector and Charding Nullah Junction (CNJ) in Demchok sector are still on the negotiating table.
In January, Pande said the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) had constructed roads measuring 2,000 km along the northern borders during the last five years, and upgraded several key bridges in forward areas to support movement of military equipment including big guns.
June 5, 2023 Timothy Prickett Morgan As IT analysts
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