India is finally kick-starting the plan to build as many as 18 tunnels along the borders with Pakistan and China for faster troop mobility as well as storage of critical war-fighting assets like missiles, without the threat of detection by enemy satellites and spy drones.
While preliminary work on seven tunnels is underway after requisite approvals, the construction of 11 more tunnels in Jammu & Kashmir, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh is now on the drawing board after “a strong endorsement” by the Army.
With China resorting to “tunnelling in a big way” to store important military equipment, the Army wants the tunnel construction plans in the mountains in J&K and north-east to be fast-tracked. “The tunnels will provide shelter to troops and ammunition from both enemy shelling and extreme weather. They can also be used for NBC (nuclear, chemical, biological) protection and establishing command and control centres,” said a top official.
Actual construction work is underway only in one of the 18 proposed tunnels. But, this long-delayed 8.82-km long horse-shoe shaped tunnel under the 13,400-feet Rohtang Pass, on the Manali-Sarchu-Leh axis, is unlikely to meet its completion deadline of February, 2015. Feasibility studies and preparation of detailed project reports (DPRs) for three more tunnels at Zozila, Z-Morh and Razdhan Pass in J&K are in progress, while similar work is planned for Khardungla and Sadhana Pass in J&K and Theng in Sikkim. The other proposed tunnels include Rangpo in Sikkim and on the Balipara-Charduar-Tawang axis in Arunachal Pradesh.
The Army is anxious the existing large gaps in border infrastructure — in terms of all-weather roads, tunnels, strategic railway lines, “permanent defences” and the like — are plugged as fast as possible. China, for instance, can move around 30 divisions (each with over 15,000 soldiers) to the borders within 30 days to outnumber Indian forces by at least 3:1 after undertaking massive infrastructure development all along the 4,057-km Line of Actual Control, as earlier reported by TOI. An empowered committee under defence secretary Shashikant Sharma is scrutinizing DPRs for the proposed overall “capability development plan on the northern borders” worth Rs 26,155 crore. While this is slated is slated for completion by 2020-2021, there is an ongoing Rs 9,243 crore project for “infrastructure development in the eastern theatre” by 2016-2017.
The Army hopes the projects are not hit by huge time overruns like the 73 all-weather roads earmarked for construction along the three sectors of LAC close to a decade ago. Defence minister A K Antony admitted in LS this week that just 16 of those roads have been finished till now, with another 26 slated for completion by 2013, and 19 more by 2016.