On the Road to Disaster
Making rail and road connectivity to the China border should be a priority for the Indian government

C-17 Aircraft
C-17 Aircraft for strategic lift

In its recommendations, the Parliamentary committee on defence has expressed frustration on the reply given by the defence ministry on border connectivity. When asked what difficulties are being faced by troops because of lack of adequate road and rail connectivity to the China border, the official response was that troops were able to adequately monitor the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and were prepared in consonance with the perceived threats.

This is baloney to say the least. The truth is that connectivity to the LAC has deteriorated sharply over the years. On the one hand, land connectivity for troops for strategic, operational and tactical movements remains what it was in the early Eighties. On the other hand, troops’ density commensurate with the assessed enhanced threat has increased. Both these aspects require elaboration to fully comprehend the challenges ahead.

To place land connectivity into perspective, the Vajpayee government has cleared the strategic and operational road network to the LAC in 2002. Once that government fell in 2004, the Manmohan Singh government revived the same list of road network only in 2008, when a limited funding was made available. However, the main issue of task-responsibility was left open-ended. This problem has still not been resolved with numerous stakeholders blaming one another. It is amply clear that this responsibility will need to be taken away from the cabinet secretariat and entrusted to the National Security Advisor’s (NSA’s) secretariat as the ministries involved in various clearances seem to be working at cross purposes.

The reason for raising the level to the NSA’s office is that the land connectivity directly impinges on national security. In case of hostilities, operational and tactical mobility of troops will be adversely affected. While the Indian Air Force (IAF) has purchased airlift capabilities in terms of C-17 and C-130J aircraft, it is extremely limited, and will be dependent on weather conditions and extent of hostilities. For example, the advance landing grounds will not be available for movement of troops during war. This is not all. The Indian Army has hundreds of high altitude posts, where, at present, troops have to march from a few hours to up to two days carrying loads from the road head. And, this is the situation in Tawang, a garrison town which is the birthplace of the sixth Dalai Lama and has to be defended at all costs.

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