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New Road to Doklam

October 7, 2019 By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd)
The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army


The Border Roads Organisation (BRO) has converted an erstwhile mule track from Bheem Base to Doka La in Sikkim held by India Army, that will make it easier to enter the Doklam Valley, which was the site of a 73-day military standoff between Indian Army and China's PLA; where the Chumbi valley of China occupied Tibet (COT), Bhutan and India converge. China was constructing a road from China Occupied Tibet (COT) intruding into Bhutanese Territory (illegally claimed by China) despite China-Bhutan agreement to maintain status quo while boundary talks were on.

The mule track from Bheem Base to Doka La, which used to take seven hours to cover, can now be traversed in 40 minutes along the newly built road. In 2017, the Indian Army was forced to move to the Trijunction through a single road in the absence of an alternative, delaying the deployment of troops in Doklam. The alternative road will enable access to the area through two points, easing the logistic difficulties, reducing time and making the process of deployment smoother. It will help troops transfer and reinforcement. According to the BRO, the newly made Bheem Base-Dokala road was black topped on a war footing and has enabled defence preparedness of the country in the wake of any enemy aggression. It has also eased logistic difficulties, reduced time and made the process of deployment smoother. Work on the road was from Bheem Base (also known as Dokala Base) to Doka La was authorised in 2015, much before the India-China standoff at Doklam in 2017. According to BRO sources, another motorable road planned from Flag Hill to Doka La is planned to be completed by 2021, who also stated, "Currently, Dokala is connected to India only through 'Tri junction-Bheem base-Dokala' route, which was completed in 2018. Therefore, construction of another motorable road from Flag hill has begun." The 33.80 km Flag Hill-Dokala road is currently a foot track. Around 11 km of the road from Flag Hill has already been constructed and the rest is expected to be complete by March 2021. This road is planned to be 6-metre wide, out of which 4.5 metre width would be covered in asphalt. These developments have the potential to alter the military dynamics in the region as these roads would streamline the movement of Indian Army in this sensitive region. In April 2019, BRO had completed the 255-km Darbuk-Shayok-Daulat Beg Oldie (DSDBO). DBO being eight km south of KK Pass, this is a strategically vital road because DBO is a military base on the ancient trade route connecting the Ladakh to the Tarim Basin, with Chip Chap River flowing just south of DBO. DBO lies nine km northwest of Aksai Chin which is part of J&K and under illegal occupation of China. Significantly, DBO also has the highest airstrip in the world at an altitude of 5065m (16,614 feet). The DSDBO road is actually not new but large segments had to be realigned and rebuilt.

Construction of the DSDBO Road began 19 years ago in year 2000 under direct monitoring of the PMO and was required to be completed by 2012. However, in 2011, a CVC-instructed Chief Technical Examiner (CTE) inquiry found that the DSDBO Road had been laid on flatter terrain on the Shyok riverbed instead of on the mountainside, making it unfit for military use. Construction of the road in or near the riverbed, contrary to approved plans, resulted in damage every summer as melting snow from the upper reaches flooded the Shyok River. During summer months from June to October, the road remained closed for up to 94 days due to rise in the water level, generally at km 99 to 105.50, 106.6, 112, 121.50, 124.32, 130.00, 138.8, and km 148 to 162. The inquiry estimated that half of the money spent in the Rs 320 crore project, mainly for cutting 14,900 cubic metres of mountain side per kilometer stretch had been "misappropriated". With BRO under the Ministry of Defence (MoD), it is quite obvious that the scam of some Rs 160 crore with such blatant corruption benefitted officials of BRO, MoD and possibly even PMO who were monitoring the project. Post the inquiry, orders were issued to realign large segment of the DSDBO Road with completion deadline extended to year 2014. But this road eventually took another five years to complete. What has been the additional cost and who is accountable for it remains unknown. There is thus much corruption in execution of works by the BRO, which goes on unknown to the public. Significantly, this is not the first time. The government needs effective monitoring system for development of border infrastructure, which has important bearing on effective border management and national security. The good news as reported in media is that this year, BRO will complete blacktopping of another 11 strategic roads and another nine roads on the India-China border. According to DG BRO, construction of six roads of the India-China strategic roads (total length 58 km) remains.

In Arunachal Pradesh, the 180 km-long road parallel to the India-China border connecting Passighat to Brahmakund is also complete. Significantly, Taksin and Tama Chung Chung are linked by the road connecting the Eastern and Western RALP (Rest of Arunachal Pradesh, a military term), saving thousands of km of journey. Tama Chung Chung was being air -maintained till recently and to move from western Arunachal Pradesh to eastern Arunachal Pradesh, one moved south into Assam and climbed back north. But while linking eastern and western Arunachal Pradesh is a good development, requisite roods linking the 180 km-long road parallel to the India-China border (connecting Passighat to Brahmakund) to where the Army is located scores of km south of the LAC are lacking. Where these have been built, one-way convoys are resorted to due to inadequate width, which is not conducive to quick mobilisation and reinforcements. Motorable roads to forward-most villages also must be built for effective monitoring and control of border areas.