Despite India’s advantageous geographical position in Doklam and its infrastructure push post its standoff with China, Beijing still holds an edge in terms of connectivity.
While many Indian roads cannot withstand the pressure of military traffic even 46 years after China took advantage of it in the 1962 war, a number of important sectors continue to be dependent on “single access routes” that could be “risky in times of conflict”.
A parliamentary panel that took a first-hand stock of the ground situation in Doklam has strongly pitched for “enhancing the level of priority to border roads”.
The panel, chaired by Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, said it was “perturbed…that despite a marked progress in recent years, the border road infrastructure on the India-China border is grossly inadequate, as confirmed by its own observations from its visits”.
In several important sectors, India is “dependent on single access routes, a risky proposition in times of conflict. Worse, many roads are not built to withstand military traffic. China had specifically taken advantage of this in the 1962 war and therefore we ought to draw lessons from the past on this matter, it added.
During their visit, the panel members realised only some of the border posts are connected by all weather roads. “The panel members were shown pictures of infrastructure developed on both the sides of the border and major discrepancies were clearly visible. The sorry situation has accumulated over the year. Some roads in Guwahati, Tawang and Gangtok were constructed under the Prime Minister Gram Sadak Yojna (PMGSY).
These roads are being used for military purposes. These roads are inadequate for military purposes but they can definitely be envisaged as a back up access route in times of exigencies it is imperative for national security that we should not be dependent on single point access,” it said.
In its report on India-China ties, Parliament’s standing committee on external affairs referred to inadequate infrastructure including roads along the border and said there is a “distinct feeling that BRO as an organisation with antiquated rules of delegation needs a thorough overhaul”.
It was pointed out that one of the main reasons for weak border infrastructure is lack of implementation of projects and thereby unused funds. The other issue is the bureaucratic clearances that are required for infrastructure development in the border areas including inter-ministerial clearances. There is also the problem of lack of monitoring of the implementation of projects.
“The main reasons attributed to the delay as stated by the Ministry of Defence is difficult terrain, delay in getting environment clearances, inadequate infrastructure with Border Road Organisation (BRO),” the panel added.
The BRO, which draws its officers and personnel from the Army, is responsible for building and maintaining roads in border regions. The committee recommended the BRO should work to “achieve full connectivity” and Government should “significantly enhance the level of priority it gives to border roads” in view of last year’s standoff with Chinese troops at Doklam.
A decision to improve infrastructure along the China border was made in 2005-06 but progress had been “very slow”. Minister of State for Home Kiran Rijiju had recently told Parliament that the Government has undertaken construction of 73 roads of operational significance along Indo-China border. “Out of 73 roads, 48 roads are being constructed by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and 25 roads by Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). Out of 73 roads, 34 roads have been completed,” Rijiju had said.
The panel suggested that Ministry of Defence should coordinate with the respective State Governments along the India-China border to suitably enhance the design and standard specifications of the PMGSY.
According to officials, in the absence of motorable roads connecting borders to important military establishments, around 120 soldiers had to walk for 19 hours to reach the spot and then they took positions against the Chinese.
By: Daily Pioneer
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