Defence Minister Rajnath Singh along with Army chief General Manoj Pande and General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Eastern Command Lieutenant General RP Kalita (Image courtesy: Ministry of Defence)
Defence minister Rajnath Singh’s recent visit to Arunachal Pradesh was a big event signalling New Delhi’s resolve to deter China from warring across the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
On January 3, Singh inaugurated the Siyom bridge in Arunachal Pradesh, India’s strategic northeast state claimed by China as South Tibet. The 100-meter steel arch bridge over the river Siyom—a part of the Along-Yingkiong road– will enable the faster induction of troops and heavy vehicles to the LAC in the eastern sector.
The Central govt under visionary guidance of Hon PM Shri @narendramodi ji is committed to strengthening border infra.
— Pema Khandu པདྨ་མཁའ་འགྲོ་། (@PemaKhanduBJP) January 3, 2023
The Chinese betrayal in 1962, and more recently the 2017 Doklam intrusion near Bhutan, the Galwan valley incident of 2020 and the intrusion attempt in the Tawang sector last month have made it plain to the Indian leadership that deterrence and solid leveraging has to precede a substantial engagement with Beijing.
Unsurprisingly, Singh virtually inaugurated 27 other infra projects, all from the site of the stately Siyom bridge. Of these, eight are located in Ladakh, four in Jammu and Kashmir, five in Arunachal Pradesh, three each in Sikkim, Punjab, and Uttarakhand, and two in Rajasthan. These are all states and union territories that border Pakistan and China. Built by India’s Border Roads Organization (BRO), the 28 projects include 22 bridges, three roads, and three telemedicine projects.
The magnificent Sela Tunnel of West Kameng, which #BRO is building, will be another milestone in revamping infrastructure in #Arunachal. This tunnel will work to strengthen the socio-economic condition by bringing a big change in the transport facility of the local population. pic.twitter.com/67GZ8oudWj
— MyGov Arunachal Pradesh (@MyGovArunachal) January 5, 2023
Out of the projects being undertaken, the Arunachal Frontier highway is of critical importance as it forms a protective arm around the state. The highway will pass through Tawang in the west and then head eastward towards the Debang valley via East Kameng , Upper Subansiri, West Siang, Tuting, Mechuka, Upper Siang. From there it will drop southwards to Desali, Chaglagam, Kibithu, and Dong, before terminating at Vijayanagar near the Myanmar border.
-75 yrs of neglect of NE #India hopefully coming to an end
-2000km long #ArunachalPradesh’s Arunachal Frontier Highway going to be reality soon as work has already started
-I was getting frustrated with our reactive approach towards #China but thanks to GoI we hv become proactive pic.twitter.com/ugGrRTNQMF
— Insightful Geopolitics (@InsightGL) November 26, 2022
The 12-kilometre Sela tunnel, which is another critically important project to safeguard the LAC with Tawang as the focus, is expected to be completed in April this year. Located in the West Kameng District of Arunachal Pradesh, the tunnel will provide all-weather connectivity to Tawang along the Balipara-Chariduar-Tawang (BCT) road.
@BROindia Project Vartak has been working relentlessly on Sela Tunnel on Tawang Axis. Once completed this will be the longest bilane tunnel in the World above 13000 feet. BRO in Nation Building.
Jai Hind! Jai BRO!! pic.twitter.com/9V1AftbDHh
— 𝐁𝐨𝐫𝐝𝐞𝐫 𝐑𝐨𝐚𝐝𝐬 𝐎𝐫𝐠𝐚𝐧𝐢𝐬𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧 (@BROindia) December 30, 2022
India is going the extra mile to connect Tawang which is the focal point of Chinese claims on account of the monastery there where the sixth Dalai Lama, Tsangyang Gyatso, was born.
Multi-purpose tunnels in border areas, with side tunnels (running parallel and on either side of the actual tunnel) for storing ammunition and to secure missile sites to protect them from enemy missile attacks. Even as the Sela and Nechiphu tunnels on the Balipara – Charduar – Ta pic.twitter.com/GJM0x5aLJ0
— Ashwini The Diva😉😎 (@Ashwini96988554) January 3, 2023
The Nechiphu Tunnel, a feeder tunnel, passing through an area covered with heavy fog, along the BCT is also being constructed at a feverish pace.
Border Road Organisation (BRO) today conducted a final “breakthrough blast” to mark the successful completion of excavation work of the Nechiphu Tunnel, in Arunachal Pradesh. Director-General BRO Lt Gen Rajeev Chaudhry conducted it remotely from New Delhi: Ministry of Defence pic.twitter.com/riZkbYaEgA
— ANI (@ANI) May 20, 2022
While the road construction in Arunachal is going ahead at a rapid clip, it may not be enough to deter China from military adventurism as was illustrated in December.
Chinese hopes of taking Arunachal by force will be extinguished only if the Indian railways are extended right up to the LAC enabling all-weather movement of troops and heavy equipment to the frontiers.
India therefore must fast-track the three planned railway lines. These again include the 378 km long broad gauge Bhalukpong-Tenga-Tawang line, along the corridor that protects Tawang.
Commencement of final location survey of New BG Railway Line b/w Missamari(Bhalukpong)-Tenga-Tawang
— Manoj Sinha (@manojsinha_) April 1, 2017
The Lakhimpur-Bame-Silapathar line is proposed from North Lakhimpur to Silapathar via Bame and Aalo is another strategic project. It is expected that the terminal station of this section will be moved from Murkongselek to Parshuram Kund in Arunachal Pradesh, via Pasighat and Tezu. It will further connect io the Lumding–Dibrugarh section at Rupai, giving Arunachal a deep connectivity with the hinterland.
The urgency of the rail projects cannot be understated as the Chinese railway in Tibet which has already reached Xigatse, not far from the Nepal-Bhutan trijunction, is being extended to Yadong. In the heart of the Chumbi valley, Yadong is less than 50 kilometers from Nathu La in Sikkim.
Chinese railways are also being extended up to Nyingchi in southeast Tibet. This is just a short distance from the LAC in Arunachal Pradesh. In fact, Nyingchi—a town where the roar of the great bend of the Brahmaputra can be heard, is only 16 km north of India’s Tuting sector in the Upper Siang district of the border state.