By Jaishree Balasubramanian
India, which for years has neglected infrastructure along its borders, will spend U.S. $2.9 billion (206 billion rupees) to build dozens of roads along the frontier with China, as Beijing pushes ahead with highway and naval expansion programs, the Indian government said in a new report.
The federal government’s Central Public Works Department (CPWD), in its annual report released this month, announced plans to construct the roads in five states along the Sino-Indian border to ensure quick mobilization of troops in case of a conflict.
“The CPWD has been entrusted with construction of 44 strategically important roads along the Indo-China border spanning five states of J&K [Jammu and Kashmir], Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh,” the report said, adding that the new highways would be constructed by the public works department and Border Roads Organization (BRO).
The nearly 4,000-km (2,485-mile) Line of Actual Control between India and China touches areas from Jammu and Kashmir in the north to Arunachal Pradesh state in the northeast.
“China has much superior roads along the borders. To support our forces, we need to develop our infrastructure,” Vivekananda International Foundation fellow Ashok Kantha told BenarNews. “The construction of roads will help mobilize troops and vehicles if need be.”
The report comes at a time when China appears to be giving priority to infrastructure projects along its borders with India, according to local media.
China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has made significant advances in constructing an “all-weather road” that connected “the Doklam plateau with its network of highways,” local channel News 18 reported, attributing unnamed intelligence sources.
Road construction along the border with China was ignored for years but came to the forefront after the Doklam military standoff between India and China in 2017. In late August 2017, the two side announced that they had settled the dispute by “disengaging” their respective troops from the area, according to a report by Radio Free Asia (RFA), a sister entity of BenarNews.
“The decision to build communications and roads near the border areas had been taken some years ago. This is essential for supplies and for maintaining the essential presence of troops in the border areas,” said Anil Wadhwa, another academic at the Vivekananda International Foundation, an Indian policy think-tank.
Last month, an Indian parliamentary committee on external affairs said road infrastructure along the India-China border was grossly inadequate, “as confirmed by its own observations from its visits,” local media reported.
The committee recommended that the BRO should work to “achieve full connectivity” and the government should “significantly enhance the level of priority it gives to border roads.”
The BRO “needs a thorough overhaul” to improve roads and infrastructure along the disputed border with China, the parliamentary committee said in its report.
China boosting naval power
Meanwhile, China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy, which added 80 new ships to its fleet in the last five years, was “here to stay,” Indian Navy Chief Adm. Sunil Lanba said.
Lanba told a panel discussion at the Raisina Dialogue conference last week that no navy had grown as rapidly in the last 200 years, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.
“There is no doubt that they are spending a huge sum of money in developing their military capability, modernizing their forces, and modernizing their command structure,” Lanba said.
Kantha, who had served as India’s ambassador to China, echoed Lanba’s concerns.
“The Chinese navy has upgraded its strategy, there is a lot of emphasis on protecting its overseas interests, upgrading network of infrastructure, hardware,” Kantha told BenarNews.
He noted that China had a network of ports, too.
“They have 75 port terminals controlled by Chinese entities,” Kantha said.
At any given time, six to eight Chinese Navy ships are in the northern part of the Indian Ocean, Lanba had said.
Meanwhile, “China is moving to a two-ocean approach – from coastal navy to blue water navy, operating in distant seas,” Kantha said.