Infrastructure in the border areas of the northeast requires to be spruced up at a ripping pace to ease the logistical pressure on the Army to support its high-altitude deployments.
What could illustrate the need to strengthen communications better than the fact that road heads at many places are as far as 100 kms from the forward posts in Arunachal Pradesh. Soldiers have to trek for days to make it to their posts, some of which are located at altitudes of about 17,000 feet in the Kameng sector.
Colonel Rakesh Chibber, acting Brigadier General Staff of the Tezpur-based Gajraj Corps, which is responsible for a border frontage of 1,563 kms with China, said some road projects were in progress but these would come to fruition in seven to eight years. He said, "Even then some of our posts would be at least 40 kms away from road heads. China on the other hand has created good rail and road network across the border."
The China-Tibet railway from Gormu to Lhasa is an example of infrastructure modernisation on the other side. A rail link under construction from Lhasa to Xigatse will further bolster China's capabilities to mobilise and support military. "The country's strategic focus on road-building to improve the connectivity between Tibetan Autonomous Region and the mainland is also of military significance," an Army officer said.
The geography here poses a formidable logistical challenge for the Army. For instance, there are eight major passes in the Kemang sector, all of which remain closed during the winters. The rest of Arunachal Pradesh, or RALP as the Army calls it, has 64 passes of which only seven are perennial. Worse, the six valleys in this sector are not connected with each other. There's only one artery connecting Tezpur and Tawang, which is the main logistical installation for servicing forward posts.
A senior officer said, "All lines of communication originate from Assam. Brahmaputra is a logistical nightmare for us. We have to depend on multiple modes of transportation—air, surface, inland water, porters and ponies."
It will, however, be incorrect to suggest that the government has done nothing to scale up infrastructure and remains unaware of the rapid modernisation of China's infrastructure along the border. In June 2006, it cleared the construction of 608 kms of roads along the Sino-Indian border at a cost of Rs 992 crore. The Border Roads Organisation said it would take seven years to complete the project, but the Cabinet Committee on Security directed it to complete the project within four to five years.
During his tour of the northeast from November 2-4, the minister of state for defence, MM Pallam Raju will attend a review meeting of the BRO and apprise himself about the works undertaken by the organisation in Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. According to an estimate, the average road density in border regions is a poor 16 km per 100 sq km against the national average of 80 km.
To improve connectivity across Brahmaputra, construction of two new bridges has been planned, one of which will originate from Dibrugarh. These bridges will provide extra points of inter-connectivity between NH-31 which connects Siliguri to Guwahati and NH-52 which links Guwahati to Pasighat. The BRO will also undertake major repairs of the Tawang-Bum La road, which was constructed by the Chinese in just four weeks during the 1962 war to facilitate the advance of its troops.
Inclement weather conditions and lack of local resources including manpower in sparsely populated regions come in the way of timely completion of projects.