Dong-Jachep route: “Stable but unpredictable.” You must have heard this phrase from politicians or military officers while talking about China. This proves to be the truth as we catch up to the historical events on the border. Similarly, with Pakistan, we can see that the country has always backstabbed India after softening relations. But India has always confronted Pakistan in the best possible manner. And since India has an edge over Pakistan, situations are mostly stable.
China, on the other hand, is a different story altogether. Therefore, India is always working to improve its defence capabilities. To meet the challenges posed by both China and Pakistan, India is increasing its military buildup and infrastructure development along the Lines of Actual Control (LAC) and Lines of Control (LOC).
Dong-Jachep route: benefits and challenges
In a more recent development, the Indian government has called for bids to build a Dong-Jachep route connecting Jachep Camp and Dong Village in Arunachal Pradesh. The government’s decision to connect Dong village is a masterstroke, as it is the country’s easternmost village. Talking about Jachep camp, it is 4 KM short of LAC and 20 KM from the Myanmar border. So basically, this road will touch the significant tri-juncture points of India, China, and Myanmar.
The Indian government began the process on February 1, 2023, with the goal of completing the construction within three years. A 78-kilometer single-lane road with a width of 3.75 metres will cost Rs. 200 crores to build. The road will be crucial for both the Indian Army and the Indian Air Force, as it will serve as the Dong-Jachep route to transport men, ammunition, and arms close to LAC. The government is also enthusiastic about constructing a helipad in the middle of the road nearby.
The Dong-Jachep route will be built following the standards of a single-lane national highway specifications and will be a greenfield project. Although it is a win-win move for India, challenges cannot be ignored. The Dong village lies at the meeting point of two rivers, namely, Lohit and Seti, at an altitude of 1,255 metres above mean sea level.
The highest altitude to be reached by road is 4,500 metres above mean sea level, which is near the border regions of Myanmar, China, and India. The majority of the area covered by the road would be on a snow-clad mountain with a steep rise in altitude.
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Why India needs an infrastructure boost
It is a well-known fact that China’s policy in South Asia runs on Mao Zedong’s “palm and five fingers theory.” China eyes Ladakh, Sikkim, and Arunachal Pradesh. However, it is a never-fulfilling fantasy. But India needs to be cautious on its part. The whole of LAC needs better attention from the government. In the past few years, India has witnessed standoffs and skirmishes along the borders. In June 2017, Chinese and Indian soldiers clashed, resulting in a two-month standoff until both forces withdrew from the area. Doklam is also a tri-junction point among India, China, and Bhutan.
Three years later, in June 2020, a violent clash occurred between the Indian and Chinese soldiers. Twenty Indian soldiers were martyred, and four Chinese soldiers were killed (according to China). For nearly two years, the Pangong Tso dispute escalated until full disengagement in 2021. December 2022 saw another skirmish in the Tawang region, where India claimed that China wanted to change the status quo but was driven out of the valley. The Chinese soldiers were severely beaten before being returned to their homeland.
The question here is why these clashes occur. The answer is China’s territorial expansion. LAC has a 3,488-kilometer border. Naturally, not every region is covered, and the length can only be monitored by patrolling. China makes use of these limitations. It expands itself by occupying small portions at a time known as salami slicing. When the Indian side notices this, clashes ensue.
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So, in order to stop these breaches across the borders, better infrastructure along the Line of Actual Control is required. Arunachal Pradesh, being the eastern region, has long been left on its own. The people of Arunachal Pradesh know better than anyone how the borders remained almost permeable. That is why the current government of India is determined to boost infrastructure along the LAC. But the borders in Arunachal Pradesh are not the only part of LAC that is witnessing an infrastructure boost.
Along with LAC, infrastructure development along the Line of Control is required. Because they are envious of India, China and Pakistan have friendly relations. We saw how China helped Pakistan from the back door during the Indo-Pakistan War in 1965, and how China resisted only under Russian pressure during the 1971 war.
Although India’s military buildup along the LOC is robust, it may prove insufficient in the worst-case scenario. If India is forced to fight both China and Pakistan on the same front in a two-front war, it will need more advanced buildup and infrastructure along the LOC to counter Pakistan.
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Border infrastructural projects and expenditure
India had already begun projects in the Ladakh region prior to the announcement of this road. As per the reports, the Border Roads Organization (BRO) has invited bids for a 135-kilometer single-lane road with a width of 7.45 metres in the Ladakh region. The Dong-Jachep route will connect Chushul to Demchok along the LAC. Apart from that, BRO has also invited bids for the Nyoma airfield in the region.
India is rapidly building roads and spending heavily to deter Pakistan from misbehaving. Increased border patrolling has reduced infiltration, which has been one of the most serious issues in recent years.
The road construction data given by the Minister of State for Defense, Mr. Ajay Bhatt, in the Rajya Sabha, along the borders completely depicts India’s approach to border security. In the last five years, India has built 2,088.57 kilometres of road along the border with China, at a cost of Rs. 15,477.06 crore. Here, it is worth noting that India and China share a 3,488-kilometer long border.
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In contrast, 1,336.09 kilometres of road have been built along Pakistan’s borders in the last five years. The total cost incurred was Rs. 4,242.38 crore, and the border between India and Pakistan is 2,300 kilometres long.
The total length of roads built along the borders in the last 5 years is 3,595.06 KM, with an expenditure of Rs. 20,767.41 km. Last year, the BRO dedicated 103 infrastructure projects worth Rs. 2,897 crore. Similarly, in 2021, 102 such projects of the BRO were dedicated to the nation at a cost of Rs 2,229 crore. More recently, with the start of 2023, Rajnath Singh, the Union Defense Minister, inaugurated 28 border infrastructure projects worth Rs. 724 crore.
While the other 27 were inaugurated virtually, he physically inaugurated the Siyom Bridge. The bridge is strategically important and is 100 metres long. It is a Class 70 steel-architecture superstructure bridge over the Siyom River.
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What will the gains be?
As it is well known, borders are mostly inaccessible because of the altitude and crisscrossing terrain. When the roads and other infrastructure are constructed, they provide the mainland with easy access to the borders. As a result, the increased access helps instill increased vigilance. In the end, it leads to less intrusion and more stability and peace.
The prime example of this was evident in various incidents. Back in 2016, the Indian Air Force landed the largest transport aircraft, the G-17 Globemaster, at Mechuka Advanced Landing Ground (ALG) in Arunachal Pradesh, followed by another landing in the Leh region in 2017. In 2018, the Indian Air Force landed a C-17 Globemaster at Tuting ALG in Arunachal Pradesh, just 30 kilometres from the Chinese border.
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This was interpreted as a message to China. Following the withdrawal from Doklam, some sources reported that China was still holding the ground to the north of the concerned area.
India’s recent peaceful yet forceful confrontations are nothing more than a signal of its preparedness, which is based on these types of infrastructure and capability developments. And China’s constant intrusions are nothing more than actions motivated by disappointment. While the process is still ongoing, this 78-kilometer road will undoubtedly be a strength for the Indian Army and Air Force.
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