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Rediff.com  » News » Same old story: Red tape blocks critical defence projects on China border

Same old story: Red tape blocks critical defence projects on China border

July 23, 2012 11:09 IST
Clearance for many strategic roads have been delayed because the ministry of environment and forests as well as respective state forest and public works departments have been sitting on the proposals without realising their importance to national security, reports RS Chauhan

The Indian Army and Air Force are worried about the slow pace of implementation of several crucial infrastructure projects in the country's north-east and Ladakh region, mainly planned in support of improved defences along the China border

Army and Air HQ have separately told Defence Minister AK Antony that many crucial projects in Arunacahl Pradesh, Sikkim and Ladakh are held up because of bureaucratic and terrain issues.

Clearances for many strategic roads, for instance, have been delayed because the ministry of environment and forests as well as respective state forest and public works departments have been sitting on the proposals without realising their importance to national security.

In the ministry of defence itself, many plans like the revamp of eight advanced landing grounds for the Air Force all along the China border in Arunachal Pradesh are stuck at the detailed project seport stage. Last year, the IAF managed to upgrade and operationalise the ALG at Vijaynagar after great difficulty. But plans for the remaining ALGs have been gathering dust in the MoD for almost eight-nine months now. 

These ALGs, located close to the China border, are crucial for troop insertion and maintaining supplies to the forward positions. The revamp has been planned for enabling landing of bigger aircraft like the newly-inducted C-130Js planes in the IAF. 

Similarly, the IAF's plan to extend the runway at Kargil and Nyoma (25 km from China border) in Ladakh have not been cleared by the MoD citing financial crunch. 

The Air Force had proposed to extend the runway at Kargil airstrip as a backup plan in an emergency. The plan was to turn it into a full-fledged airport capable of handling heavy and medium transport aircraft like the C-130J Hercules and the C-17s that the IAF will be inducting into its transport fleet in the next couple of years.

The IAF feels Kargil will add to its airlift capability in Ladakh even if the Thoise air base close to the Siachen base camp becomes inaccessible in case the world's highest motorable road at Khardung La (18,500 feet) shuts down due to heavy snow or landslides.

Kargil, mid-way between Srinagar and Leh, is ideally suited to become a major transport hub since areas beyond it are highly prone to natural calamities and consequent physical isolation, given the fragile mountain roads that connect it to the rest of the country.

The Army's ambitious plans to build several strategic roads have been hampered not only by the slow moving bureaucracy in the MoEF but also by the lack of interest shown by private firms capable of undertaking such projects in remote areas. Most of these companies find the projects in the difficult, high altitude terrain unfeasible due to a variety of reasons.

The government's own Border Roads Organisation, on the other hand, does not have enough strength or modern equipment to fully meet the needs of speedily building these roads. 

Last year the high-level China Study Group was asked by the Prime Minister's Office to review and re-prioritise projects along the high Himalayas. A comprehensive border roads development programme that envisages the construction of 75 important roads in the border areas stretching from Arunachal Pradesh to Ladakh was to be accelerated.

But over 10 months after that directive, military leaders say nothing much has changed on the ground.

RS Chauhan in New Delhi