LUCKNOW: On July 25, as India’s national security adviser Ajit Doval was preparing to leave for Beijing to do some back-channel diplomacy with the Chinese over the standoff in Dokalam, People's Liberation Army (PLA) troopers were transgressing into Indian territory in the Uttarakhand sector of the border.
They did that twice in the Barahoti sector of Uttarakhand but Indian officials on Monday downplayed the intrusion, saying they happen not too infrequently and should not be given "undue importance".
The first transgression took place on July 15 and the other on July 25. In both instances, about 15-20 Chinese soldiers came into Indian territory, stayed for a while and left, Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) sources said.
Barahoti is a no man’s pasture land used by the local people to graze animals. A 350 km arc of the McMahon Line cuts through the area, signifying the Indo-Tibetan border. It lies some 400 km from Dehradun, up in the hills of Chamoli district in Garhwal.
During the July 25 incursion, PLA troops are said to have bullied shepherds grazing cattle during a two-hour stay, officials in the know said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. They left after the Indian side protested.
However, official sources said incidents of a similar nature have happened in the past and are normally sorted out locally. These transgressions occur due to differing perceptions of the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
“It has been happening for decades. Though we can't call it routine, it is not so unusual either," said a senior ITBP officer.
Confirming the intrusion by Chinese troops, Uttarakhand chief minister Trivendra Singh Rawat dubbed it as a sensitive and a worrisome development. He said, however, that the Indian army is in total control of the situation at Barahoti. The district magistrate of Chamoli, Ashish Joshi, who initially called the reports routine, was not available for further comment.
Barahoti is an 80 sq km area of sloping pasture land. It falls in the middle sector of the Sino-Indian border, comprising Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. It is a demilitarised zone where Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) jawans are not allowed to take their weapons.
In 1958, India and China listed Barahoti as a disputed area and agreed that neither side would send their troops there. In the 1962 war, the PLA did not enter the middle sector.
After the war, ITBP jawans would patrol the area with weapons in a non-combative manner -- with the barrel of the gun pointing down.
During negotiations on the border dispute, the Indian side unilaterally agreed in June 2000 that ITBP troops would not carry arms in three posts: Barahoti and Kauril and Shipki in Himachal Pradesh.
ITBP men patrol the area in civil clothes. As per local sources, both Indian and Chinese troops conduct routine recces of the area. These are not uncommon to the people of Barahoti.
The area where incursions have been reported in the past is close to a revered pond called Parvati Kund, where there is said to be a small Kali and Shiva temple. Chinese troops often demolish such local shrines and Indians rebuild them.
Rimkhim is the last Indian post in the area. There is a 5 km trek to a ridge in Barahoti from where Tibet is visible. There is around 100 km motorable road from Chamoli to Rimkhim in Barahoti which draws its name from a seasonal Hoti river.