Reply to hostile neighbours: India gears up with border infrastructure
by Ashok B Sharma on 02 Nov 2014 1 Comment

Enough is enough. We have seen a number of incursions and ceasefire violations at our borders with China and its all-weather friend, Pakistan. It is time now to show our adversaries that India cannot be taken for granted. Both China and Pakistan are in illegal occupation of parts of Indian territory. Not satisfied with their illegal occupation, both countries are greedy to acquire more of Indian territory. 


It is laudable that the new government led by Mr Narendra Modi has recognised the importance of building border infrastructure and has decided to give fast track environmental clearances to the border projects. India has decided to build 558 roads totaling 27,986 km by 2030 at a cost of over Rs 50,000 crore along the borders with China and Pakistan. India is justified in building these roads on land under its possession; there is no construction on land illegally occupied by China or Pakistan. 


The proposed India-China frontier highway, that will be monitored by the Home Ministry will run parallel along the China border and will be 1,800 km long, at an estimated cost of about Rs 40,000 crore. The Border Roads Organisation (BRO) has been tasked to build 277 roads with a total length of 13,100 km at a cost of Rs. 24,886 crore in the first phase. Another 281 roads with a length of 14,886 km and costing Rs. 25, 268 billion would be built as part of the second phase.


Though the original plan was to complete the first phase of the project by 2012, work did not proceed at the desired pace and may get stretched to 2015. The second phase was to be completed by 2022, but would now extend up to 2030.


Under the first phase, the BRO has completed 29 roads. Work is in progress on 168 more roads and construction is yet to start on 80 roads. The second phase of the border roads project too has started, with work on 11 roads totalling 876 km in progress. 


Maximum efforts will be made for 73 India-China border roads by moving 61 units of BRO to Jammu and Kashmir, seven units to Himachal Pradesh, 33 units to Uttarakhand, 46 units to Arunachal Pradesh and 21 units to Sikkim to ensure timely completion of the roads.


In the eastern sector, the proposed highway will pass through Tawang, East Kameng, Upper Subansiri, West Siang, Upper Siang, Dibang Valley, Desali, Chaglagam, Kibito, Dong, Hawai and Vijaynagar in bordering areas of Arunachal Pradesh. 


A similar project - the Trans-Arunachal highway, announced by the erstwhile UPA government in 2008 to connect the middle of the state - is moving at a snail’s pace with only 230 km of 2,400 km project completed so far. About 80 critical border roads have been stuck for many years due to environmental hurdles. These include crucial GS (General Staff) roads that link border outposts and camps to the main roadhead. In all, around 6,000 km of critical road stretches which were stuck can now be expedited. Approximately 5,000 hectares of land in the eastern sector, mostly Arunachal Pradesh, have been held up due to environmental hurdles.


As per the Parliamentary Standing Committee report, the government has plans to undertake construction of 73 roads on operational significance along the India-China border in Phase I. Of these, 46 are strategically significant, being constructed by the Defence Ministry, and 27 roads running through 805 kms are being funded by the Home Ministry at Rs 805 crore for effective movement of the Indo-Tibet Border Police force. As many as 26 ITBP priority roads are currently under construction along the Indo-China border.


In the eastern sector, stakeholders like Defence Ministry and Ministry of North East Affairs will also be roped in for the project. Further an industrial corridor is slated to be constructed in southern Arunachal. 


The government has already given its nod for the expansion of Project Seabird - the country’s largest naval base - that had been stuck for three years, and is also likely to rule favourably towards setting up of a naval base at the Narcondam islands in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands.


India’s boundary with China was well defined by the erstwhile British colonial rulers by drawing the Johnson Line and the McMahon Line. In 1865, the British rulers sensing likely expansionist plans of then Czarist Russia drew India’s northern boundary in the Ladakh region with Tibet which extended beyond the Kuen-Lun (Kunlun) mountains up to Khotan and included the Aksai Chin desert and linked Demchok in the south with the 18,000 feet high Karakorum Pass in the north. This is popularly called the Johnson Line, drawn by WH Johnson of the Survey of India. It included Shahidulla in far off Karakash valley, about 400 km from Leh.


As Tibet, which shared borders with India, was then independent of the Chinese kingdom, the consent of the Chinese was not necessary. The British declared Tibet as a buffer state. In 1907, the British and the Russians came to an agreement to leave Tibet “in that state of isolation from which, till recently, she has shown no intention to depart”; that meant Tibet was a buffer state between China and India.


The 1846 Treaty of Amritsar following the defeat of the Sikh kingdom gave the British the responsibility for the security of the new kingdom of Jammu and Kashmir, especially its northern and eastern borders with Sinkiang and Tibet.


The British called for a conference in Shimla in October 1913 which the Chinese attended reluctantly, but the Tibetan authorities came quite eagerly as they were now engaged in conflict with their Chinese suzerains. The then Foreign Secretary Henry McMahon led the British delegation. The boundary line that followed was known as McMahon Line which extended to the edge of the Tibetan plateau. The Survey of India for the first time showed the McMahon Line as the official boundary. 


China refuses to accept this history and has been making further claims on Indian territory despite its illegal occupation of thousands of kilometers of Indian territory in the northern and eastern sectors, including 5,800 sq km of Gilgit-Baltistan illegally ceded by Pakistan. In total China occupies more than 20,000 sq km of Gilgit-Baltistan covering Shaksgam, Raskam and Aghil valleys, apart from a large chunk in Ladakh. Despite 17 rounds of negotiations between special representatives of the two countries no tangible results are in sight.


It is a wise decision of the Indian government to give fast track environmental clearances for construction of border infrastructure. It was due to lack of proper border roads India could not push out the Chinese invaders in 1962 and prevent Pakistan from illegally occupying parts of Jammu & Kashmir.


Similarly in the Indian Ocean, India should work out diplomatic relations with its maritime neighbours to prevent the expansion of Chinese footprint through its string of Pearls. India should also be prepared to make its presence felt effectively in the South China Sea and the East China Sea.  

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