MUMBAI: Noting that casualties have tapered off the world's highest battlefield over the years, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar today ruled out dislodging troops from Siachen Glacier citing its strategic significance.
"I think from the national security angle, holding our presence in Siachen is very important," Parrikar said, in the wake of the death of 10 armymen in a massive avalanche hit a week ago. The Defence Minister said there has been a decline in the number of annual casualties at the glacier, where India and Pakistan have been holding a ceasefire for the past many years.
"The number of deaths has tapered off to comparatively acceptable levels but we need to maintain our presence in the Siachen Glaciers," Parrikar said. Acknowledging that "there are costs" of maintaining presence at the glacier, he said the number of casualties has come down to around 10-14 a year in the last decade. Of these deaths, 8-9 deaths on average are because of "accidents such as falling into a snowy ditches", while only one or two deaths happen because of high altitude-sickness or cold, he said.
"We need to maintain Siachen presence because Siachen is the height, if we vacate that, anyone who comes cannot be removed or dislodged from there," Parrikar said, pointing out that China and Pakistan lay on either side of the glacier.
On the figure of 874 soldiers' deaths so far in Siachen, he said the number included those who died in fighting between Indian and Pakistani forces in 1984. Parrikar also said Lance Naik Hanamanthappa Koppad, who died last morning due to multiple organ failure, was able to survive for six days under the snow because he was in a sleeping bag when the avalanche occurred.
Gadgets such as drones cannot be used effectively in such terrains where the temperature goes down to 40 degrees below freezing point amidst ferocious wind speed, he said.