‘Ladakh face-off result of infrastructure building’

‘Ladakh face-off result of infrastructure building’

New Delhi, June 20: The face-off with China in parts of eastern Ladakh is the direct result of the government building better infrastructure including roads in the region, top sources said today on the June 15 clash at Galwan Valley in which 20 soldiers were killed. Tackling opposition criticism, the sources accused the previous Congress government of delaying infrastructure projects in the name of green clearances, pointing out that even former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh may have played a role in this lassitude when he was in charge of the Environment Ministry.

“The more frequent face-offs are not necessarily a sign of weakness or bad relations, but indicate a greater ability on the part of the Indian Army to monitor, detect and respond to PLA patrolling. As infrastructure keeps improving, these possibilities will only increase,” government sources said on Friday, setting the stage for the all-party-meeting called by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday evening to discuss the India-China crisis.

Most experts watching the India-China situation have said the government building roads and airfields to improve transport links and narrow the gap with China’s superior infrastructure on its side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) is a big reason for the current escalation. At Galwan, India completed a road leading to an airfield in October despite Chinese objections.

Building a road network near the de-facto border with China was one of the first decisions of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in 2014, the sources said.

In July 2014, less than two months after PM Modi took office for the first time, a “general approval” was given for a road network to be built by the Border Roads Organization. The blanket approval, which scrapped the need for the centre’s sign-off for every plan, was extended to all border security-related infrastructure, such as outposts, floodlights and fencing.

By comparison, the sources said, the previous Congress-led government had “blocked” such infrastructure for “various reasons”.

“Often the delays were due to flip flops on environmental clearances especially under the stewardship of ministers like Jayanti Natarajan and Jairam Ramesh. Notably, for almost half of the period of 2004-14, the then Prime Minister himself held charge of the Ministry of Environment,” the sources said, without naming Manmohan Singh.

The Modi government cleared the way for the construction of 66 operationally critical Indo-China Border Roads, said the sources.

“Earlier, every approval came to the Ministry of Defence. These powers were subsequently delegated to officers up to Chief Engineer level in the Border Roads Organization,” they said.

The government also bought modern construction equipment on a massive scale between 2017 and 2020 and used Chinooks to airlift construction equipment and material. In a detailed rebuttal, the government contrasted the progress of roads, tunnels and bridges now and on the Congress-led UPA’s watch.

Many opposition leaders have raised questions after the worst-ever escalation at the border with China since 1967. The loudest criticism has been from Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who tweeted: “Why is the PM silent? Why is he hiding? Enough is enough. We need to know what has happened. How dare China kill our soldiers? How dare they take our land?”

PM Modi, in a strong message to China, said the soldiers’ sacrifice would not be in vain and warned that India would give a fitting reply when provoked.