India building tunnel in Himalayas to get soldiers to Chinese border in 10 minutes
India has stepped up an infrastructure program on the disputed Himalayan region to bring to an end the construction of a tunnel that will provide an all-weather route for its troops to get to the border with China in only ten minutes.
The $400-million tunnel in Himachal Pradesh state will enable the Indian military to get to the Chinese border without using a 50-kilometer trudge through mountain passes that are snow-bound in winter and subject to frequent landslides.
The tunnel, constructed at an altitude of more than 3,000 meters, will reportedly reduce the present four-hour journey through high-altitude crossings to a 10-minute distance through the mountains.
“There have been times on the pass route when vehicles have broken down, causing traffic jams of even six to eight hours," said Lieutenant-General Harpal Singh, head of India's Border Roads Organization (BRO).
"This tunnel and the other infrastructure plans change a lot for the troops," he added.
Laborers are working overtime to get the tunnel ready before Prime Minister Narendra Modi is due to open it later this month.
Currently, essential items such as arms, ammunition and food have to be transported up in bulk before winter starts in an area where temperatures can plunge to minus 40 Celsius.
The construction work is part of New Delhi’s efforts to boost its military presence on the border with China, where escalated tensions have prompted the two nuclear powers to accuse each other of committing border aggression since last month.
Harsh Pant, from the Observer Research Foundation think-tank in New Delhi, said India's efforts only belatedly mirror those of China. "China and its infrastructure, is much stronger today,” he added.
India and China have engaged in renewed tensions since a clash in the Ladakh region in mid-June, which led to the death of 20 Indian troops.
Last week, diplomats from both countries agreed to take steps to restore “peace and tranquility” on their disputed Himalayan border.
Indian police arming locals on China border
Meanwhile, Himachal Pradesh police chief Sanjay Kundu has proposed arming locals and training them to report possible Chinese threats.
In addition to the tunnel, India’s Border Roads Organization (BRO) said it has constructed more strategic roads near the border with China in the last four years than in the previous decade and that it aims to complete 15 more key routes by the end of 2021.
It is upgrading a recently-completed 250-kilometre stretch parallel to the Chinese frontier that cuts journey times from Ladakh's capital Leh from one week to less than a day.
Media reports also said that next month, all bridges along the route will be able to support the weight of a 70-tonne T-90 tank on a trailer, or a truck carrying a surface-to-air missile.