Why India must fast-track its railways in Arunachal Pradesh to deter China
Arunachal Pradesh : Defence Minister Rajnath Singhs recent visit to Arunachal Pradesh was a big event signalling New Delhis resolve to deter China from warring across the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
On January 3, Singh inaugurated the Siyom bridge in Arunachal Pradesh, India’s strategic northeast state claimed by China as South Tibet. The 100-meter steel arch bridge over the river Siyom – a part of the Along-Yingkiong road – will enable the faster induction of troops and heavy vehicles to the LAC in the eastern sector.
The Chinese betrayal in 1962, and more recently the 2017 Doklam intrusion near Bhutan, the Galwan valley incident of 2020 and the intrusion attempt in the Tawang sector last month have made it plain to the Indian leadership that deterrence and solid leveraging has to precede a substantial engagement with Beijing.
Unsurprisingly, Singh virtually inaugurated 27 other infra projects, all from the site of the stately Siyom bridge. Of these, eight are located in Ladakh, four in Jammu and Kashmir, five in Arunachal Pradesh, three each in Sikkim, Punjab, and Uttarakhand, and two in Rajasthan.
These are all states and union territories that border Pakistan and China. Built by India’s Border Roads Organization (BRO), the 28 projects include 22 bridges, three roads, and three telemedicine projects.
Out of the projects being undertaken, the Arunachal Frontier highway is of critical importance as it forms a protective arm around the state. The highway will pass through Tawang in the west and then head eastward towards the Debang valley via East Kameng , Upper Subansiri, West Siang, Tuting, Mechuka, Upper Siang.
From there it will drop southwards to Desali, Chaglagam, Kibithu, and Dong, before terminating at Vijayanagar near the Myanmar border. The 12-kilometre Sela tunnel, which is another critically important project to safeguard the LAC with Tawang as the focus, is expected to be completed in April this year.
Located in the West Kameng District of Arunachal Pradesh, the tunnel will provide all-weather connectivity to Tawang along the Balipara-Chariduar-Tawang (BCT) road. India is going the extra mile to connect Tawang which is the focal point of Chinese claims on account of the monastery there where the sixth Dalai Lama, Tsangyang Gyatso, was born.
The Nechiphu Tunnel, a feeder tunnel, passing through an area covered with heavy fog, along the BCT is also being constructed at a feverish pace. While the road construction in Arunachal is going ahead at a rapid clip, it may not be enough to deter China from military adventurism as was illustrated in December.
Chinese hopes of taking Arunachal by force will be extinguished only if the Indian railways are extended right up to the LAC enabling all-weather movement of troops and heavy equipment to the frontiers.
India therefore must fast-track the three planned railway lines. These again include the 378 km long broad gauge Bhalukpong-Tenga-Tawang line, along the corridor that protects Tawang.
The Lakhimpur-Bame-Silapathar line is proposed from North Lakhimpur to Silapathar via Bame and Aalo is another strategic project. It is expected that the terminal station of this section will be moved from Murkongselek to Parshuram Kund in Arunachal Pradesh, via Pasighat and Tezu.
It will further connect io the Lumding-Dibrugarh section at Rupai, giving Arunachal a deep connectivity with the hinterland. The urgency of the rail projects cannot be understated as the Chinese railway in Tibet which has already reached Xigatse, not far from the Nepal-Bhutan trijunction, is being extended to Yadong.
In the heart of the Chumbi valley, Yadong is less than 50 kilometers from Nathu La in Sikkim. Chinese railways are also being extended up to Nyingchi in southeast Tibet. This is just a short distance from the LAC in Arunachal Pradesh.
In fact, Nyingchi – a town where the roar of the great bend of the Brahmaputra can be heard, is only 16 km north of India’s Tuting sector in the Upper Siang district of the border state.