Upping the ante along the border in Ladakh, China has built a bridge over a disputed stream in Demchok that gives it access to traditional Indian grazing grounds, ringing alarm bells in the hill development council that has escalated the breach with higher authorities.
The new bridge was noticed on 8 August, the day Indian herders were threatened to leave the Nelung Nala area by Chinese border guards. Dr Sonam Dawa Lonpo, chairman of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council told ThePrint that the bridge is a matter of serious concern.
“When our men go there, they ask us to leave and when they come we ask them to go, it happens there. But the construction of the bridge seems to be serious. This is on the nala, we are on one side and on the other side are the Chinese. The bridge has given them a crossing to get to our side,” Lonpo told ThePrint.
A detailed questionnaire sent to the Indian Army on the incidents in Demchok and along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) went unanswered.
As reported by ThePrint, Indian villagers who had taken their cattle to the grazing grounds near Nelung Nala were confronted by Chinese border troops on 8 August and threatened with dire consequences if they returned back, leading to the locals lodging a strong protest with the administration.
“On 8 August, this happened in Demchok where they constructed a bridge for pedestrians. On 15 August, it happened near Pangong lake. These activities keep happening and are visible on the borders where our people stay,” said Lonpo, the first BJP leader elected as chairman to the hill council.
Lonpo said that while the Indian side responds positively to such incidents on the border, there have been repeated objections by the Chinese side that stops work on developmental projects. “One thing is clear that China wants to stop activities and developmental work. They always raise objections to stop us from working,” the leader told ThePrint.
Meanwhile, fresh complaints from villagers in Demchok have reached the Leh administration, calling for action that would allow them to return to the grazing grounds in Nelung Nala. Sources told ThePrint that earlier in the month, locals even brought back pieces of tents torn by Chinese border guards to press their demand for action.
The 3 km area traditionally used by the Indian side to graze cattle has been cut off with villagers unwilling to go back fearing a crackdown by Chinese troops. Demchok has in the past seen a series of confrontations with the Chinese objecting even to the construction of a hospital on the Indian side.
In 2014, similar aggression was seen by Chinese troops in Demchok during President Xi Jingping’s visit to India, although the bigger standoff took place in Chumar where nearly a thousand troops from each side were involved in a face-off that was resolved through dialogue.
The two armies have been involved in a tense face-off in Doklam in the India-China-Bhutan tri-junction area since late-June.