NEW DELHI: Niti, Uttarakhand: In sharp contrast to the metal-topped roads, rail links, air strips, radar systems, fuel depots and other state-of-the-art infrastructure on the Chinese side, the Indian Army convoys that were moved to Joshimath from different places were vastly hampered by the poor infrastructure on the Indian side. Some of the units arrived here from Dehradun, about 300 km away, navigating landslide-prone zig-zagging roads. But their hardest task was the last 100 km stretch from Joshimath to Barahoti and Niti Pass.
Mobilephones go dead at Tapovan, 15 km beyond Josihmath. Further starts a slushy path. Driver of an army truck said it took the army 11 hours to complete the stretch. Since they were moving heavy artillery and men, they were vulnerable to landslides. If darkness falls midway, the trucks were forced to stop.
As it rained heavily on many days, the frequency of shooting stones and landslides increased, making it impossible for troops to move forward. “On August 15, some 32 vehicles crossed Malari village and many of them got stuck en route due to landslides. Earth movers had to be summoned by satellite phones,’’ said a local police official.
Many of the Army and ITBP truck drivers were new to the terrain. No help came from locals in many villages because several of them, from Tapovan to Jumma, Malari, Kurkuti, Bampa, Gamshali and Niti, have been emptied out due to out-migration from the hills.
“If there were better roads, mobile connectivity, hospitals, and petrol bunks, it would aid the mobility of the forces. More than the real enemy, these factors hinder us before we reach the battle front,’’ said an ITBP jawan.
Despite the war of 1962, no government since then has paid attention to improving infrastructure along the LAC. Only on a few stretches of this path have new roads being laid and workers said it would take a long time before the last mile is covered. Work on this terrain is difficult, but then it’s the same on the Chinese side. There are several small and big bridges in this area, but these were repaired by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) only just before the troops’ movement began. Many bridges that were in a bad shape were only patched up for movement of artillery and men. A drive on these bridges is dizzying, for the cliff falls off steeply down to the Dhauli Ganga river.
Senior officials in Uttarakhand were loath to admitting that the infrastructure on this side of LAC is inadequate when compared to what Beijing has done on its side. But, ever since the Doklam standoff, BRO has stepped up work on the roads. “There have been several proposals for highways, railway lines, air bases, logistics and other infrastructure. But for some reason, they remained on paper for decades. Now that we had the Doklam standoff, hopefully the government will focus on infrastructrure here,” a senior official said.India and China share a 3,488 km border that arcs over several Himalayan states. In Uttarakhand, a 345 km line passes by Barahoti, a grassland in Chamoli district. It has seen frequent incursions by the Chinese.
Despite the war of 1962, no government since then has paid heed to improving infrastructure along the line of actual control
The hardest task was the last 100-km stretch from joshimath to barahoti and niti pass.
it took army 11 hours to cross this stretch
While the nation’s eyes were riveted on the war of eyeballs at Doklam, the Indian Army was battling another set of adversities on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Uttarakhand just so as to be prepared should any hostilities break out. A visit to the frontier by this correspondent, even as the ‘expeditious disengagement’ at Doklam was being announced, brought home the odds India’s military faces in securing India’s borders in this arc of the LAC.
The path up to Barahoti, Niti Pass and other areas close to the LAC is treacherous. It’s a narrow snaky path with the sheer drop of the mountain on one side and a steep valley on the other. Landslides and shooting stones are a possibility at any time. A misjudgment by an inch or two can result in a plunge down the valley with absolutely no hope of survival. Get caught in a landslide and there is no guarantee how long one could be stuck here without help.
There’s no mobile phone connectivity throughout the 100 km stretch and not a single fuel station. Plus, at heights above 16,000 ft, oxygen is rare and high-altitude pulmonary oedema can be a killer. In case the situation demands travel at night, this is nothing but a deadly game of Russian roulette.
Ever since the Doklam standoff began between India and China, hundreds of trucks transported artillery equipment and thousands of men up this treacherous stretch from Joshimath to the LAC. The heavy movement of artillery and troops was carried out amid fears that a ‘limited action’ could take place on this front instead of at Doklam. Repeated incursions by Chinese troops here indicated that possibility.