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Explained | How is the government ramping up border infrastructure? 
THE HINDU

Explained | How is the government ramping up border infrastructure? 

What is India building in Ladakh, Arunachal Pradesh and other places in the north and east? Besides roads, what other connectivity is India looking at? Why are projects being executed in countries such as Myanmar, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and Sri Lanka?

The story so far: At an unscheduled briefing during a Parliament session this week, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar released details of the government’s projects on border infrastructure and connectivity. It focused on initiatives in the north and east along India’s 3,488 km border with China (Line of Actual Control or LAC), including ramping up infrastructure on the Indian side in Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, and Arunachal Pradesh, as well as projects connecting India to “friendly” neighbouring states such as Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and Myanmar.

What was the purpose of the briefing?

Speaking to journalists, Mr. Jaishankar said the Modi government has “focused on rapid development of infrastructure along Northern Borders with China for obvious strategic reasons”. This was a reference to successive skirmishes with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army in Chumar in 2014, Doklam in 2017 and the ongoing standoff along the entire LAC since April 2020 when the Chinese army amassed troops along the border, which resulted in the Galwan clashes, the first such violent incident in 45 years. “Behind the debate that we often witness on the India-China border, including that of questions asked by the Opposition, one needs to look at what goes into our border preparedness. It’s the quality of our structures, the technology involved and its maintenance,” he added, indicating that the purpose of the briefing was to counter the Opposition’s questions on the India-China situation during the parliamentary session.

What initiatives did the briefing outline?

An official document released, highlighted a multi-pronged approach — improving connectivity to the LAC through roads, bridges and tunnels, improving cross-border connectivity to neighbouring countries via highways, bridges, inland waterways, railroads, electricity lines and fuel pipelines, modernising and constructing integrated check posts (ICPs) at all the border crossings to smooth trade, and funding and constructing infrastructure projects in neighbouring countries.

While many of these projects have commenced or been in the pipeline for several decades, the government claimed that it has accelerated them and completed execution. For example, the government said that the length of roads constructed in the China border areas in the period from 2014 to 2022 (6,806 km) “is almost double the length” constructed from 2008-2014 (3,610 km), and cited a similar case for bridges built.

What about neighbourhood projects?

The report lists dozens of projects in the neighbourhood that have been planned, financed or constructed — some involve major outlays like the railway links to Nepal and Bangladesh, the Mahakali motorable bridge and the Maitri Setu between Tripura and Bangladesh, the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project (KMTTP) which includes a 158 km waterway, the Sittwe port project and road to Mizoram. It also speaks of “South Asia’s first cross-border petroleum products pipeline” between Motihari in India and Amlekhgunj in Nepal, another High Speed Diesel pipeline with Bangladesh that will reduce petrol prices and road congestion, and a Bhutanese dry port in Pasakha bordering West Bengal being developed under an Indian government grant.

Is there a significance to the timing of the report?

The report was released in the wake of an official Security Conference report that said Indian forces have lost access to 26 of 65 patrolling points along the LAC since 2020. According to the analysis, that The Hindu had first reported in December 2022, some of the points have been encroached upon by PLA troops and infrastructure, while at some, patrolling has been suspended by mutual agreement in talks with Chinese border commanders to avoid conflict and “to play safe”. Former Minister and Congress MP Manish Tewari has given notice for an adjournment motion every day of the current session to bring attention to what he calls a “land grab” by Chinese forces. The government may have also sought to allay concerns in neighbouring countries in light of the recent drop in share value and credit ratings of the Adani Group that has been highlighted internationally. The Adani Group has been involved closely with the Modi government’s foreign policy forays, especially in the neighbourhood, and is in talks for a number of projects, including electricity with Bangladesh and Nepal, ports in Myanmar and Sri Lanka, as well as renewable energy projects in the region, particularly as the government has been concerned about Chinese infrastructure outlays in the neighbourhood. Officials in neighbouring countries will watch closely to see if financing for those projects is impacted by the Adani controversy.

The timing is particularly significant as it comes a few weeks before the visit of Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang to Delhi for the G-20 Foreign Minister’s Meeting on March 1-2. Mr. Qin is due to return in early May for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Foreign Ministers meeting in Goa, and Chinese President Xi Jinping is being invited to India twice, for the SCO summit expected in June and the G-20 summit in September.


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