The Chinese incursion across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh has stoked an old rift between the Defence Ministry and the Ministry of Home Affairs over the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) guarding the 650-km LAC with China along Jammu and Kashmir.
South Block mandarins are reiterating their old demand for the 50,000 strong ITBP to be placed under the operational control of the 11.3-lakh strong Indian Army, on the lines of the Assam Rifles that guards the India-Myanmar border.
In Ladakh, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troopers, with two sniffer dogs, had sneaked into the Indian side of the LAC on April 15, unnoticed by ITBP soldiers. They also pitched four tents at Debsang Bulge in the area. The ITBP got to know only 24 hours later, primarily because they are not permanently posted at those locations, and are on patrol only as frequently as possible. It also does not go up to the entire Indian side of the LAC, as much as the Chinese do till theirs, because of the norms set by the China Study Group, a high-level committee with secretaries of Defence, Home and External Affairs apart from the Indian Army Vice Chief as members.
“The projection, for the ITBP to be under Army’s operational control, has been made several times in the past, but hasn’t met with a positive response from the Home Ministry,” says a Brigadier of the Indian Army. The LAC is “undemarcated” and there are high possibilities of incursions by Chinese troopers, according to Defence Ministry officials. The last three years, till 2012, had witnessed over 600 incidents of PLA transgressions. Besides, the ITBP doesn’t have the expertise to handle confrontations of the kind being witnessed. “In such circumstances, the Army needs to join forces with the ITBP, as the Ladakh Scouts have done this time,” they noted. The ITBP officers refused to comment.
Since its raising in October 1962 in the aftermath of the bitter Sino-India war that left New Delhi humiliated, the 53 battalions of ITBP have been entrusted with the responsibility of manning around 3,500 km of the 4,057-km of LAC with China. From Karakoram in the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir to Jachep La in Arunachal Pradesh, ITBP mans outposts on the LAC along the Himalayas bordering Tibet and Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Sikkim at altitudes ranging from 9,000 feet to 18,600 feet stretching.
The Indian Army guards only just over 500 km of the LAC, particularly in the North East region. While the Leh-based 14 Corps defends Ladakh against Chinese misadventures, the eastern sector is handled by the Tezpur-based 4 Corps and Dimapur-based 3 Corps. A Lieutenant General of the Army heads the Assam Rifles and its battalions are commanded by Army colonels.
The Sunday Standard