Can’t rule out possibility of any conflict today: Rajnath Singh
New Delhi: The possibility of “any kind of conflict” cannot be ruled out in the existing uncertain environment, defence minister Rajnath Singh said on Tuesday as he opened roads and bridges in border areas such as Ladakh, where India is locked in a dragging military standoff with China.
India has ramped up efforts to create vital infrastructure such as roads and bridges all along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in recent years, mainly to match the dual-use infrastructure built by China on its side. The Indian side’s efforts have gained urgency since the face-off with Chinese troops began in May last year.
Singh opened 24 bridges and three roads built by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) in four states and two Union territories at a virtual event held in New Delhi. Five of the 24 bridges are in Ladakh, nine in Jammu and Kashmir, five in Himachal Pradesh, three in Uttarakhand and one each in Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. Two of the roads are in Ladakh and one in West Bengal.
The highlight of the event was the inauguration of the Chisumle-Demchok road at Umling pass, located at a height of more than 19,000 feet in southern Ladakh, and India’s first indigenous Class 70 double-lane modular bridge, built at a height of 11,000 feet at Flag Hill Dokala in Sikkim. The one in Ladakh holds the Guinness world record for the highest motorable road.
“In today’s uncertain environment, the possibility of any kind of conflict cannot be ruled out. Such situations motivate us even more to develop these areas,” Singh said, speaking in Hindi.
“The situation we faced recently in the northern sector, and the manner in which we were able to respond strongly to the adversary, would not have been possible without the development of appropriate infrastructure,” he said, referring to the standoff in Ladakh sector of the LAC.
“As we move forward in the direction of strengthening our border infrastructure, we have to bolster our surveillance systems as well. The problems of infiltration, skirmishes, illegal trade and smuggling often persist in border areas. In view of this, the government started the Comprehensive Integrated Border Management System sometime back,” he added.
Roads in the border areas are required for both strategic purposes and the development of remote areas, Singh said. “In this way, these bridges, roads and tunnels play an important role in our security and in empowering the entire nation,” he said.
Referring to the construction of the highest motorable road in southern Ladakh, he said the BRO achieved this “historic feat” despite numerous challenges such as the extreme altitude and sub-zero temperatures.
Singh contended that adequate attention was not paid to developing border infrastructure after the country’s independence, and said there has been a major shift in approach in the past few years.
“After independence, our policies were such that internal areas of the country developed but the border regions remained relatively deprived of development. This situation continued for a long time,” he said.
“The further we moved away from Delhi, the graph of development kept falling in the same proportion. Earlier it was said that people in the border areas may be far from Delhi, but they are not far from our heart. But as the transport sector witnessed major expansion, it became an old saying,” he added.
Singh also made a special mention of recent milestones achieved by BRO, including the Atal Tunnel, Kailash Mansarovar road, 54 other bridges built by the organisation and the setting up of centres of excellence on road safety, and roads, bridges, tunnels and airfields.
He said the government has several steps in the past six to seven years to strengthen BRO, including increasing its budget by three to four times. He also lauded BRO’s initiatives for the welfare of its personnel, including a special drive to provide quality housing, jackets and rations in high-altitude areas, an increase in the wages of construction workers, improved health care facilities and Covid-19 vaccination for personnel.
India and China have massed tens of thousands of troops in Ladakh sector of the LAC for the second consecutive winter after several rounds of diplomatic and military talks failed to result in disengagement at all friction points. India has linked the normalisation of ties in all spheres to disengagement and de-escalation along the LAC.