As the Indian and Chinese militaries held a second round of Lt General-level talks on Monday (June 22), the Centre reviewed ongoing road projects along the Sino-Indian border, and decided to expedite work on 32 of them, officials said.
In an attempt to lower the temperature following the violent clashes in Galwan Valley last week that left 20 Indian Army personnel dead, the talks were held at 11:30 am at Moldo on the Chinese side of Chushul sector in eastern Ladakh.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Home Affairs at a high-level meeting, attended by the the Central Public Works Department (CPWD), Border Roads Organisation (BRO) and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) among others, reviewed all border infrastructure-related projects in the de-facto regions near the Line of Actual Control (LAC) dividing the two countries.
Works will be expedited on 32 road projects along the border with China and all concerned agencies will extend cooperation to fast-track the projects, an official privy to the meeting told PTI.
A total of 73 roads are being constructed along the Sino-Indian border. Of these, the CPWD is working on 12 and the BRO on 61, under the direct supervision of the MHA, which is the nodal authority for all border infrastructure-related projects.
According to a report in NDTV, Monday’s meeting was the second time in five days that Sanjeeva Kumar, Secretary (Border Management) reviewed the progress of road construction along the border areas due to the Centre’s underlying determination to build an infrastructure along the LAC which is comparatively stronger that the ones in the Chinese side.
However, experts believe that India’s decision to fastrack the roads project for developing the Ladakh region through the Galwan valley into Shyok is the main reason behind China’s aggression.
The move comes amidst the ongoing row between the Indian Army and China’s Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) in Ladakh sector.
Twenty Indian Army personnel were killed in a clash with the PLA in the night of June 15-16 in the Galwan Valley in Ladakh.
At least three vital roads are being constructed by the BRO in Ladakh, another official said.
Apart from the roads, priority will also be given to projects related to development of other border infrastructure like power, health, telecom and education.
According to the MHA officials, there has been a surge in works related to roads along the Sino-Indian order in recent years.
Recently, India completed a feeder road connecting Darbuk to Daulat Beg Oldie, which would improve its defence along the Galwan river.
“The focus was to speed up ongoing projects as we are lagging behind in phase two, entailing about 32 strategically important roads in the region, which was to be completed by 2019. There have been issues relating clearances so in the meeting focus was to ease these bottlenecks ,” a senior bureaucrat told NDTV.
The formation-cutting works were completed for 470 km roads along the border in 2017-20, in comparison to just 230 km in 2008-17, the officials said.
Surface-clearing has been done for 380 km of roads in 2017-20, in comparison to just 170 km in 2008-17, they added.
Six road tunnels were constructed in 2014-20 in comparison to just one in 2008-14. Besides, additional 19 road tunnels are under planning stage, they said, adding a total of 14,450 metres of border road bridges were completed in 2014-20 in comparison to 7,270 metres in 2008-18.
A total of 4,764 kms of roads were constructed in 2014-20 in comparison to 3,610 kms in 2008-14.
Similarly, the budget for the road projects has also been increased in recent years.
Budget for road projects per year between 2008 and 2016 was in the range of ₹3,300 crore to ₹4,600 crore.
In 2017-18, ₹5450 crore were earmarked for road projects for the border areas, ₹6,700 crore in 2018-19, ₹8,050 crore in 2019-20, ₹11,800 crore in 2020-21.
Monday’s Lt General-level talks are are expected to deliberate on a set of confidence building measures including implementation of an agreement arrived at the first round of the Lt Gen talks on June 6, the sources said.
The Indian delegation at the talks is being led by 14 Corps Commander Lt Gen Harinder Singh while the Chinese side was to be headed by the Commander of the Tibet Military District.
The meeting is taking place in the backdrop of the escalating tension between the two sides after the Galwan Valley clashes on June 15, the most serious cross-border confrontation in the last 45 years.
The Chinese soldiers used stones, nail-studded sticks, iron rods and clubs in carrying out brutal attacks on Indian soldiers after they protested the erection of a surveillance post by China on the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control in Galwan.
After the clashes, the two sides held at least three-rounds of Major General-level talks to explore ways to bring down tension between the two sides.
In a telephonic conversation with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on Wednesday, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar called the clashes a “premeditated” action by Chinese PLA.
Following the incident, the government has given the armed forces “full freedom” to give a “befitting” response to any Chinese misadventure along the 3,500-km de-facto border.
The Army has sent thousands of additional troops to forward locations along the border in the last one week.
The IAF has also moved a sizable number of its frontline Sukhoi 30 MKI, Jaguar, Mirage 2000 aircraft and Apache attack helicopters to several key air bases, including Leh and Srinagar, following the clashes.
The two armies were engaged in a standoff in Galwan and several other areas of eastern Ladakh since May 5 when their troops clashed on the banks of the Pangong Tso.
The situation in eastern Ladakh deteriorated after around 250 Chinese and Indian soldiers were engaged in a violent face-off on May 5 and 6.
The incident in Pangong Tso was followed by a similar incident in north Sikkim on May 9.
Prior to the clashes, both sides had been asserting that pending the final resolution of the boundary issue, it was necessary to maintain peace and tranquillity in the border areas.
(With inputs from agencies)