Army jawans posted in the border areas of the northeast dread the journey to their posts. The roads are bad — in most places, they do not exist.
Road heads at many places are as far as 100 km from the forward posts in Arunachal Pradesh. Soldiers have to trek for days to make it to their posts, some 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 km with China, said some road projects were in progress but these would take seven to eight years. He said, “Even then, some of our posts would be at least 40 km 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 modern infrastructure on the other side. A rail link under construction from Lhasa to Xigatse will further bolster China’s capabilities to mobilise and support the 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 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 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 km 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.