As the Chinese worked on an extensive road network right up to its border with India, security forces and defence analysts watched nervously. The roads on our side were little more than ragged stretches.
But on Thursday, the Government finally made its move, approving the construction of a 608-km road network along the Sino-India border, which stretches from Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir to Diphu La in Arunachal Pradesh.
The project will be executed by the Border Roads Organisation which had set a seven-year time frame. Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee said the Cabinet Committee on Security headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wanted BRO to finish the project in six years. It is estimated to cost Rs 912 crore, nearly Rs 1.5 crore for each kilometre of the road.
The Chinese had realised the advantage of a road network along the border long back and had been blasting their way through the mountains. But roads along the Indian side had remained under-developed for a larger part of the last five decades despite Indo-Tibetan Border Police and Army personnel emphasising on matching Chinese efforts to prepare roads for easy transportation of troops to various posts on the border.
In fact, the ITBP had last year attributed most of the "perceived violations" on the Line of Actual Control by the Chinese to its road construction activity along the border.
Also, landslides that led to the creation of a lake on river Parechu which flooded Himachal Pradesh in 2000 and killed nearly 100 people were believed to be linked to explosions detonated by road construction workers.
Thursday's approval, however, is only a modest response to what China has already done. And it is only a coincidence that the cabinet approval came within days of the last round of talks between NSA MK Narayanan and his Chinese counterpart vice foreign minister Dai Bingguo this week.