Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday (September 17) that the “patrolling patterns are traditional and well-defined… no force on earth can stop our soldiers from patrolling” and “there will be no change in the patrolling pattern”, referring to the situation along the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh.
However, the situation on the ground, especially in the Depsang Plains in the far north of Ladakh, contradicts Singh’s statement. According to The Indian Express, more than a month before the standoff began in May on the north bank of Pangong Tso, where Indian soldiers are not allowed to move beyond Finger 4 to the LAC point at Finger 8, Chinese troops had cut off Indian access to five “traditional” patrolling points (PPs) in the Depsang Plains.
A top source in the government confirmed with The Sunday Express earlier this week that the Chinese troops blocked access to PPs 10, 11, 11A, 12, and 13 in March-April this year.
The five PPs, which are located east of the strategic Sub-Sector North road, are close to the LAC, but not located right at the LAC. However, they are located inside the line that marks Indian territory.
A former member of the China Study Group, the government’s main advisory body that decides on the location of these patrolling points, said “it is a material change” due to the “tactical and strategic significance” of the area, according to The Indian Express.
The PPs are located east of Bottleneck, a rocky terrain that enables connectivity across the Depsang Plains.
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Not having access to these PPs means the Chinese soldiers are blocking Indians from reaching and asserting control over an area which, according to India, is on its side of the LAC.
The PPs are meant to be reached to demonstrate that the area in between these points and the LAC can be accessed. In order to block Indian troops at Bottleneck and deny them access to traditional patrolling routes, the PLA would not only have crossed the LAC, but even the PPs.
According to a government source, Chinese soldiers have not “settled down” at the PPs, but they come and block Indian troops when they go there. The source told The Indian Express that Indian troops, if they so wish, can still reach the patrolling points, but that will mean creating another “flashpoint”.
However, a former Army commander who served in the sector said it was not possible for the Chinese to block Indian troops at Bottleneck unless they have dug in close to the Y-Junction with a sustained surveillance arrangement in place.