New Delhi: After seven decades of dithering on establishing border connectivity in the Northeast, India has initiated a massive infrastructure building, the showpiece of which is the Arunachal Frontier Highway, one of the country’s biggest and toughest projects.
While sources in the defence establishment and the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) refused to get into specific timelines for the project, they said that this is a “strategic project which is being sped up”.
Work on the project has already started in certain sections with state-of-art equipment deployed to fast track the whole process, they added.
The project, which was objected to by China in the past, is a 2,000-km long road that follows the McMahon Line. The road will begin from Mago in Arunachal Pradesh, adjacent to Bhutan, and pass through Tawang, Upper Subansiri, Tuting, Mechuka, Upper Siang, Debang Valley, Desali, Chaglagam, Kibithu, Dong, before ending at Vijayanagar near the Myanmar border.
Covering the entire Line of Actual Control (LAC) adjacent to Arunachal Pradesh, this project will cost at least Rs 40,000 crore. Sources described it as “one of India’s biggest and toughest” road building projects.
With this project, Arunachal Pradesh will get three national highways — the Frontier Highway, the Trans-Arunachal Highway and the East-West Industrial Corridor Highway.
Six vertical and diagonal inter highway corridors totalling 2,178 km will be built to provide missing inter-connectivity between the three highways as well as to provide faster access to border areas.
The corridors include the 402 km-long Thelamara-Tawang-Nelia Highway, the 391 km-long Itakhola-Pakke-Kessang-Seppa-Parsi Parlo Highway, the 285 km-long Gogamukh-Taliha-Tato Highway, the 398 km-long Akajan-Jorging-Pango Highway, the 298 km-long Pasighat-Bishing Highway and the 404 km-long Kanubari-Longding Highway.
Sources said the Arunachal Frontier Highway will be a huge capability jump for the military since it will allow seamless and faster movement of both men and equipment to the border as and when needed for induction and de-induction.
The project was pushed by Law Minister Kiren Rijiju in 2014, when he was the Minister of State for Home and looking after border affairs. That same year, the Home Ministry set the ball rolling for the project by asking the MoRTH to prepare a detailed project report.
China had raised objections to the project in 2014 itself after it came across reports that the proposal got preliminary nod from the Prime Minister’s Office. “Before the border problem is solved, we hope the Indian side will not take any action that could further complicate the relevant issue, so as to preserve the current situation of peace and stability in the border area,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei had said.
Sources said the project is being implemented by multiple agencies in close coordination with each including the Border Roads Organisation, the MoRTH and other agencies.
Faced with an assertive China, India has been carrying out a massive infrastructure push in the Northeast with a major focus on Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim, fast tracking work on a number of bridges that can transport heavy equipment to tunnels, highways and feeder roads right up to the LAC.
A large number of specialised and state-of-art road and tunneling equipment were inducted with efforts being made to match the speed at which the Chinese are building infrastructure on their side, sources said.
“The problem at our end is that terrain is tougher with several places needing tunneling unlike the Chinese who have a flatter terrain on their side of the LAC. However, we now have the same equipment that the Chinese have,” one of the sources said.
Of the total highway projects worth Rs 1.6 lakh crore announced by the Centre for the Northeast earlier this month, Arunachal Pradesh had got the lion’s share of works amounting to Rs 44,000 crore.
Talking about the proposed highway, Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu had Monday said, “1962 was history and will never be repeated ever. In 1962, the scenario was very different. Infrastructure in the region was very poor. Despite that the Indian Army fought bravely and sacrificed thousands of lives to protect the motherland. But today, we are not what we were in 1962.”
Meanwhile, asked about the development of infrastructure in Sikkim post 2017 Doklam standoff, sources refused to get into details but informed that unlike earlier, Indian troops now have three paved access roads directly to the area.
Major capability jump for military
Sources said that the proposed highway along with other ongoing projects will provide a huge boost to the Army’s capability to move from one valley to another.
Incidentally, almost all military exercise in the Northeast focuses on inter-valley movement of troops and equipment.
The armed forces will get their first major boost when the 2.535 km-long Sela tunnel — the world’s longest bi-lane tunnel at an altitude above 13,000 ft once completed — is inaugurated in January next year, providing all-weather connectivity to Tawang.
At present, the Army and the civilians use the Balipara-Chariduar Road (Assam) to reach Arunachal’s Tawang since the Sela pass is shut down in winters.
This strategic tunnel along with Nechiphu Tunnel on the 317 km-long Balipara-Charduar-Tawang (BCT) road that leads to West Kameng and Tawang districts of Arunachal Pradesh will ensure that both defence and private vehicles have all-year mobility.
As reported earlier, the Sela Tunnel project, which has main and escape tunnels that are 1,555 m-long each, besides a shorter tunnel of 980 m and about 1.2 km of road, will ensure that the Chinese are not able to monitor traffic movement in the area. The Sela Pass is currently visible to the Chinese.
The tunnels are designed in such a way that all army equipment, including tanks and Vajra howitzers, can pass through them, away from the prying eyes of the Chinese as well as cutting down travel time with access throughout the year.
(Edited by V. S. Chandrasekar)