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Alternative Routes to Tawang, Air Replenishment Points: Arunachal Infra Push to Add to India’s Strategic Heft

The strategic Sela tunnel project will be finished by June next year, and will save more than 6 km distance, translating into nearly one hour of travel time for convoys. (Photo: News18)

The strategic Sela tunnel project will be finished by June next year, and will save more than 6 km distance, translating into nearly one hour of travel time for convoys. (Photo: News18)

BRO has completed works on 18 of 27 India-China Border Roads. Helipads and underground ammunition storage are being built in forward bases of the Army in Arunachal Pradesh.

Two alternative routes connecting the strategic border town of Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh to Assam’s Guwahati will open in the next few years, in addition to the only central axis that is operational at present, senior military and government officials told News18.com.

This includes a new western axis that is slated to come up in the next two years and another route that is being chalked out at present that will lie east of the central axis.

Both the routes—once ready and operational—will provide alternative routes to Tawang, connecting the sector bordering the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China to Guwahati.

Senior defence officials said they will help boost connectivity and economy of the region for the civil population, and also prepare for faster mobilisation of troops to the border in case of any contingency.

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At present, there is effectively one central axis connecting Guwahati and Tawang. This route includes two separate roads—the Balipara-Charduar-Tawang (BCT) road and the Orang-Kalaktang-Shergaon-Rupa-Tawang (OKSRT) road, both of which meet ahead of Tenga and from there merge into the existing central axis to Tawang.

As reported last week by News18.com, the western route will run parallel to this existing route to reach Tawang. It will get diverted from Shergaon and connect Mandala, BJ Gompa, Teli to Tawang, thus avoiding the Sela pass and running through lesser populated areas and lower altitudes.

Moreover, a second alternative eastern axis will connect Tawang to Guwahati. This is still on the drawing board and its construction will start soon, defence sources told News18.com.

This will be a slightly longer route and will bifurcate at a certain point on the BCT road, take a loop connecting certain border areas which did not have road connectivity in the past, and come back to connect to Tawang.

According to highly-placed government sources, aside from these three routes that will connect Guwahati and Tawang, construction of multiple lateral roads linking these routes at certain points is also being planned.

“This will give the military an ability to switch troops between the three routes, thus aiding the smoother and faster induction of troops when needed. It will also aid better road space management,” a top military source said.

The alternative routes to Tawang as well as the lateral roads connecting them at specific locations are all part of the massive infrastructural push in the region, which has gathered pace in the last two years.

BRO Completes 18 India-China Border Roads

Border Roads Organisation (BRO) sources told News18.com that out of the 27 India-China Border Roads that the BRO has been constructing in Arunachal Pradesh, 18 have been completed and work on only nine roads is underway. A senior BRO official said the total length of all these roads runs up to around 1,700 km.

The BRO under the ministry of defence, the state government and other agencies is responsible for developing the infrastructure in the state, including roads, bridges, tunnels, as well as those only for military sustenance, such as air bases at forward locations underground ammunition storage facilities.

This also includes blacktopping and upgrading roads to forward locations up to the LAC. For instance, the 35 km-long road to the strategic Bum La Pass, where Border Personnel Meetings between Indian and Chinese military commanders are held, is completely blacktopped.

However, work on roads leading to other forward locations in the area is still underway.

Another critical infrastructural work in progress in the state is the Trans-Arunachal Highway that would connect Tawang to Kanubari in southeast Arunachal Pradesh. The highway would culminate at Assam’s Dhemaji district. Construction is underway on the around 1,600 km-long stretch of the highways and multiple agencies, including BRO, PWD, National Highways and Infrastructure Development.

Sources in the state government said that nearly 75% of the project has been completed and the remaining is pending because of land acquisition hurdles.

They further said while the project was conceptualised in 2008, it gathered pace only in the last few years.

Airbase, Ammo Storage Space Underway

The state already has six advanced landing grounds. Government sources said plans are afoot for two others.

According to defence sources, a number of helipads are being constructed at forward locations for faster troop movement and casualty evacuation when needed. Several existing helipads are being upgraded.

A top defence source said multiple air replenishment points are also being established at the Army’s forward bases for uninterrupted air supply and sustenance, especially for posts that gets cuts off during winters. They will hold stocks of rations and ammunition, which can be air lifted and delivered to the forward posts in case of any contingency.

Additionally, the Army is working on building forward logistic bases as well as underground ammunition storage spaces for uninterrupted supply to troops during contingencies.

Strategic Sela, Nechiphu Tunnels by Next Year

Work is underway on key strategic tunnels such as the Nechiphu and Sela on the BCT road. The 450 m-long Nechiphu tunnel at a height of 5,600 feet, which is slated for completion early next year, will bring down the distance by 5km. The foundation stone for the tunnel was laid by defence minister Rajnath Singh last year.

Similarly, the strategic Sela tunnel project, running under the Sela pass, will be finished by June next year, and will save more than 6 km distance, translating into nearly one hour of travel time for convoys. The project comprises two tunnels measuring 980 m and 1,555 m and approach roads are being constructed at a height of 13,700 feet.

Sela tunnel in Arunachal Pradesh

Both the tunnels will have a major strategic importance, as they will provide all-weather connectivity, bypass the foggy stretches on the Nechiphu and Sela passes, thus aiding faster military deployments to Tawang. They have been built in a way that heavy weaponry such as artillery guns can pass through them. Sela pass can be observed by the Chinese from LAC.

Both tunnels will be completed before time and are slated for inauguration by July next year as part of ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’ — Centre’s campaign to commemorate 75 years of Independence.

Last year, Rajnath Singh inaugurated eight bridges built by BRO in the state.

A BRO official at the Nechiphu tunnel construction site said 22 bridges are being built in the region.

Nechiphu tunnel in Arunachal Pradesh (Photo: News18)

Major General Zubin A Minwalla, General-Officer-Commanding of the 5 Mountain Division, had said there has been a tremendous push on the infrastructure development by both BRO and the civilian government in the region.

Eastern Army Commander Lt. Gen. Manoj Pande had said infrastructure at the LAC and in the entire eastern sector is being stepped up. There should be enhanced cooperation between the BRO, NHIDCL and the PWD involved in road construction across the state, he added.

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first published:October 27, 2021, 11:29 IST