Himachal Pradesh border with China-controlled Tibet in Lahaul and Spiti district is usually peaceful, barring stray instances of air incursions and objection by the Red Army to laying of power lines along the international border. With China expanding its infrastructure along the international border in the tribal district of Lahaul and Spiti and Kinnaur, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police has sought more battalions to keep a tab on the 260-km-long porous border.
Himachal Pradesh shares 260 km of the porous borders with China. Of the total border length, 140 km is along the tribal district of Kinnaur, while 80 km falls in the tribal district of Lahaul and Spiti. Four battalions of Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) are guarding the border with China. In total, there are 20 ITBP posts along the border. The sensitive post includes Kauirik, which is the last village situated beyond Sumdoh.
With China rapidly increasing its infrastructure along the India border, the challenges are more for the paramilitary forces and troops manning the border there. What makes matters worst is the fact that there is no fencing along the 260 km border.
“Himachal Pradesh's boundary with China is completely mountainous. It’s difficult to fence the border. China has not fenced its border with India in Lahaul and Spiti and Kinnaur,” said a high ranking ITBP official while talking to the Hindustan Times, who did not want to be quoted.
The border with China is being manned by four battalions of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police and one Indian Army. “Infrastructure is coming up fast on the other side (China), we need to be more vigilant, though it has been peaceful so far,” he said. “But we need to pull up our socks,” the official added.
Shipki La is a high mountain pass and the border post on the India-China border at a height of 18,599 feet above sea level. It is through this pass the Sutlej river enters India from Tibet. It is also the main pass through which Indo-China trade is carried out annually. There are many other mountain passes between both the sides, which include, Lepchala Rangla, Ranisha Dob Rang.
But, between the passes, there are many transit routes which are used by the villagers of bordering Kinnaur and Lahaul and Spiti to cross over to meet their relatives across the border. “We have increased the number of border check posts to keep tabs on the criss-cross border,” said he.
The porous routes were also used for smuggling. In 2009, the police on a tip-off had seized two trucks laden with red sanders. Red sanders is wood found in Andhra Pradesh and is used in Chinese medicines and also for making musical instruments. The wood is also said to be used as a coolant in the obsolete reactors in China.
In 2011, the police caught two trucks laden with costly pashmina wool that was smuggled from Chinese villages inside the Indian border. The estimated cost of the seized wool was pegged at around Rs 1.5 crore in the international market. The police seized these trucks near Kharo in Pooh subdivision that is 100 km from Nako, a village close to the China border in the district. The wool is harvested from the Himalayan mountain goat which is primarily found in Kashmir, Tibet and Nepal. Due to pashmina's high popularity since the 1990's, it has high price in the international market.
Poor infrastructure and slow pace of developmental projects along the China border in Himachal Pradesh is also a concern. The areas bordering China have poor road and air connectivity. Besides, the army and the state had urged the Centre for funds to construct an airport at Rangrik. The airstrip at 12,000-feet-high would be of strategic importance. The main aim behind construction of the airport was aimed at enhancing the strategic capabilities and to give impetus to tourism.
The army is hard pressed for upgrading the communication network, particularly in Shalkar and Chango villages, which are close to China-occupied Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR). The army observed that garrisons of the formation are located in remote and tribal areas of the state, and in the wake of heavy snowfall, electricity supply gets disrupted. To overcome the problem, formations in the border areas rely mainly on diesel-run generators to meet its electricity needs. Three years back, the Chinese helicopters intruded in the Indian air space in Kinnaur and last year China objected to laying of power lines along the border.