1,200-km roads in a year: Building of roads along Chinese border accelerated after Galwan clash

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, on Monday, formally inaugurated 63 bridges, built by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) in six states and two Union territories, in Ladakh.

While dedicating these bridges to the nation, Singh acknowledged that BRO’s commitment towards establishing connectivity to far-flung border areas is “highly commendable”. “I am confident that the bridges inaugurated today will play a crucial role in strengthening security as well as promoting the economic development of the respective states through improved connectivity,” Singh, who is currently on a three-day visit to Ladakh, said.

In Kyungam, Singh inaugurated a 50-metre-long bridge, constructed on the Leh-Loma Road, in Ladakh. This single span, steel super structure bridge, which replaces an existing bailey bridge, will ensure unhindered movement of heavy weapon systems, including guns, tanks and other specialised equipment. The Leh-Loma Road, which connects Leh with places such as Chumathang, Hanley and Tso Moriri Lake, is vital for access to forward areas in Eastern Ladakh.

Security forces of India and China have been engaged in a face-off in multiple locations in Eastern Ladakh since April 2020. Though both sides agreed to disengage from both banks of Pangong Tso in February after multiple rounds of military negotiations, the buildup continues at other points, including at Depsang plains, Galwan, Gogra, and Hot Springs.

Since the June 15, 2020 clash in Galwan, the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) has not only accelerated multiple infrastructural projects along the China border, but also began new projects to give all-weather connectivity to Ladakh. In last one year, BRO constructed over 1,200-km of border roads. A majority of these roads were along the China border in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh.

In October last year, Atal Tunnel in Manali was opened, and the Manali-Shinkula-Nimmu highway is underway to give all-weather connectivity to Ladakh from Himachal Pradesh. Ladakh is connected through Manali and Srinagar by road, but in winter, these roads are closed due to snow.

Recently, a Parliamentary panel was informed that along the China border, construction of 57 roads, construction and refurbishing of 32 helipads, development of 47 outposts and 12 staging camps for Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), along with the construction of 18-foot tracks in Arunachal Pradesh, are currently underway.

Apart from roads, the BRO has also developed the steel bridge, 19 airfields and two tunnels in difficult and remote locations.

A close observation on the India-China border row summarises that it was the road construction by India that has always triggered the face-off between Indian the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), including the last year’s Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) Road in Ladakh which provides access to Indian military to Depsang plain, Galwan Valley and Karakoram pass.

From the 21-day stand-off in Depsang in summer of 2013 to the fierce clashes between two armies in southern Ladakh in Chumar sector that coincided with President Xi Jinping’s maiden visit to New Delhi in September 2014, Chinese objection to India’s road construction has a long list of incidents.

Notwithstanding pressure from the China, Indian government has been constantly increasing its spending on border roads. Despite the economic slowdown, funds to BRO has always been on the increase in consecutive budgets.

Looking at the financial side, an official maintained that the overall budget allocation to BRO between 2009 to 2014-15 was generally remained stagnant at around Rs. 4000 crore. But in last couple of years, there is a huge jump in the budgetary allocation to BRO like Rs. 5,400 crore in 2018, and Rs 8,000 crore in 2019-20.

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