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Defence projects along LAC to get quick green nod

 The ponderous elephant will now try to catch up with the fleet-footed dragon. The Narendra Modi government has decided to fast-track clearances for roads and other military infrastructure projects along the 4,057-km Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China, signalling that environmental clearances will not needlessly hamper national security objectives. "Construction of roads within 100-km of LAC will be given fast-track approvals under the new policy being formulated," environment minister Prakash Javadekar said after meeting defence secretary R K Mathur and other top officials on Thursday. "Delays in defence projects were happening due to the case-to-case decision-making process.

 

We are evolving policy-based solutions. The new policy will ensure faster clearances without compromising environmental issues," he added. This comes soon after the environment ministry gave the green nod to two other crucial long-pending defence projects, the expansion of the strategic Karwar naval base in coastal Karnataka and installation of a radar station at Narcondam in the A&N Islands. The defence establishment has for long identified delays in environmental clearances as one of the major stumbling blocks for India's lumbering attempts to strategically counter China's huge build-up of military infrastructure all along the LAC, from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh.

 

Defence officials say the construction of around 80 roads, adding up to around 6,000-km, along the LAC as well as infrastructure build-up in about 5,000 acres of land in Arunachal and Assam for the new Army mountain strike corps and other formations being raised against China have been "on hold" due to lack of environmental nods. But apart from green norms, the "limited capacity" of Border Roads Organisation (BRO), red-tape, hard rock stretches, restricted working seasons in high-altitude areas and inadequate air efforts to mobilise resources, have also ensured that India has lagged far behind China in the arena. Just 18 of the 73 "strategic'' roads (adding up to 3,808-km) identified for construction along the LAC for better troop mobility almost a decade ago, for instance, have been completed till now.

 

All the 73 all-weather roads, with more east-west lateral links as well as better access routes to strategic peaks and valleys, were to be completed by 2012, as reported earlier by TOI. "BRO's capacity-building through more manpower and latest construction technology and equipment is a top priority. The outsourcing of roads to private firms is also being considered," said a top defence official. Apart from its vastly superior military capabilities, China's border military infrastructure more than doubles its advantage along the LAC against India.

 

A concerned Indian Army, in fact, had over two years ago even proposed that infrastructure build-up within 50 km of the LAC, as also the Line of Control (LoC) with Pakistan, should be exempted from requisite environmental and other clearances. China, after all, now has at least five fully-operational airbases, an extensive rail network and over 58,000-km of roads in the Tibet Autonomous Region, which makes it possible for it to swiftly move over 30 divisions (each with over 15,000 soldiers) to the LAC to outnumber Indian forces by 3:1. The People's Liberation Army has also taken to conducting major ground and air exercises in the high-altitude Qinghai-Tibet Plateau in recent times.

 

Times of India, Delhi, 13th June 2014