It was this broken-down highway the Chinese used in the 1962 war to reach all the way down to Tezpur in Assam. This strategic consideration—or compulsion—drove the BRO’s ‘Op Priority Roads’, under which upgradation was taken up in 1999 as Project Vartak. “Strategically, this is one of the most important roads,” says Ajai Shukla, a former colonel, now a defence analyst. “Our supplies are all transported on the same route. Undoubtedly, this is one of our most important roads.”
During his 2008 visit to Arunachal Pradesh, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had said, “The sun kisses India first in Arunachal Pradesh. It is our ‘Land of the Rising Sun’. A new dawn of progress and prosperity is about to break out in this beautiful state.” He then announced a Rs 1,452-crore package for the state. A substantial part was meant for upgrading the single-lane highway cutting through West Kameng and Tawang right up to Bum La, more than 15,000 feet above sea level. As part of India’s plans to shore up defences along the boundary with China, the BRO has been entrusted with several important road projects, including 73 strategic road projects in the Northeast, besides what’s covered in the PM’s package for Arunachal.
As Outlook travelled along the route the Chinese intrusion took in 1962, we found that in these parts, distances are measured in hours, not kilometres. Locals are up in arms against the BRO for delays in road projects; defence personnel posted here have to bear the journeys with a grin. Road and weather conditions in this Himalayan region are such that every day is a challenge for the army’s drivers. The terrain is mountainous, green and wet with rain and mountain streams on our side. And there are five mountain ranges to cross before reaching Bum La. “There are regular war games and exercises, and we have to ferry men and equipment to the locations,” says Naik Ram Singh. “There are times it’s impossible to drive the truck at even one kmph!” A major from the engineering corps complains, “Normally, it’s rare for chassis of heavy-duty vehicles to break. Here, it’s a common occurence. The other problem is fuel loss.” What’s worrying, army personnel say, is that no truck or heavy vehicle can ply the 30-km last leg to Bum La. “The roads are not designed well—even if it’s a two-laner, the bends are extremely risky for heavy vehicles,” says the major.
Former army officer and defence analyst Maroof Raza says, “One of the lessons to learn from the 1962 debacle is to secure our northeastern frontiers, but these dilapidated roads show how much we have learnt! The army’s problem is that, even if it wants to improve the roads, it can only make a request. Our men can’t just pick up the tools and build it themselves.”
Right on the border, a jawan manning ‘Heap of Stones’—which is what the Bum La post is, stones put together by officers of the Indian and Chinese armies—sits with his buddy, maintaining constant vigil through powerful binoculars, observing a post some 5 km inside Chinese territory. While Indian troops are present right at the border, Chinese posts and communications centres are about 5 km behind the borderline. It’s dry grey-brown plateau across the border. “There’s been no tension or incursion in recent times. Our unit officers are always posted in rotation because the roads are not easy. We stay up here in batches,” says one of the jawans on duty. Navigating 40 km of the ‘Class-9’ road from Tawang to Bum La takes over three hours. The blacktop width is supposed to be 16 metres—but there’s no blacktop, and the road is barely wide enough for a jeep to pass. “It’s relatively easier for the Chinese to build a good road and high-end infrastructure because they have the advantage of easy terrain. Twenty kilometres from the border, they have a plateau, while we have a very wet, hilly, difficult terrain. They have a year-long working season, while we have only a few months. Yes, the roads are narrow. But now at least they are motorable. And that’s a positive,” says Shukla.
Kemo Lollen, deputy commissioner of Tawang, says, “Don’t construct a road in theory. There needs to be action. We are feeling quite helpless. We have been having regular coordination meetings with the border roads task forces (BRTFS), but I don’t think they can do any better. They’ll continue in their style, nothing will change.” In one of the replies to the deputy commissioner of Tawang, a copy of which is with Outlook, the chief engineer of Project Vartak concedes that “the present condition of the road between Bhalukpong-Balipara-Senge-Se La stretches are poor and causing inconvenience to the users”. The BRO blames the delay on non-settlement of land acquisition and compensation cases, peculiar weather and terrain, shortage of construction material and labour—and lastly, the attitude of locals and the civilian authorities. Outlook accessed the file of the communication between the BRO and the district administration: to all the memorandums, resolutions, complaints and reminders, the BRO has almost identical replies. “The problem is the haphazard manner—and not the fact that it’s getting delayed. Instead of undertaking cutting for the entire route all at the same time, why can’t the BRO develop the road in a phased manner?” asks Choumbey Kee, a leading youth activist of Tawang. He is also questioning the labour shortage cited by the BRO. “If that was the case, then why did they fire nearly 1,000 mostly Arunachali labourers?” asks Kee.
Asked about the roads here, army chief Gen Bikram Singh had said at a recent interaction with the press: “Yes, infrastructure and road conditions are a concern. The BRO is at it and they are improving.” Is the army satisfied? To that, the chief says, “We will never say ‘No’ to more.”
(The names of serving army personnel appearing in this piece have been changed on request.)
By Toral Varia Deshpande, on the road from Tezpur to Bum La
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
Yes indeed it is road from Hell with very little signs of it changing even though signs of some road building activities are there though still more of the BROs catch-phrases than road building. Outsource to those who build roads across mountains day-in day-out ... may be the Swiss.
We at Outlookindia.com welcome feedback and your comments, including scathing criticism
1. Scathing, passionate, even angry critiques are welcome, but please do not indulge in abuse and invective. Our Primary concern is to keep the debate civil. We urge our users to try and express their disagreements without being disagreeable. Personal attacks are not welcome. No ad hominem please.
2. Please do not post the same message again and again in the same or different threads
3. Please keep your responses confined to the subject matter of the article you are responding to. Please note that our comments section is not a general free-for-all but for feedback to articles/blogs posted on the site
4. Our endeavour is to keep these forums unmoderated and unexpurgated. But if any of the above three conditions are violated, we reserve the right to delete any comment that we deem objectionable and also to withdraw posting privileges from the abuser. Please also note that hate-speech is punishable by law and in extreme circumstances, we may be forced to take legal action by tracing the IP addresses of the poster.
5. If someone is being abusive or personal, or generally being a troll or a flame-baiter, please do not descend to their level. The best response to such posters is to ignore them and send us a message at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT
6. Please do not copy and paste copyrighted material. If you do think that an article elsewhere has relevance to the point you wish to make, please only quote what is considered fair-use and provide a link to the article under question.
7. There is no particular outlookindia.com line on any subject. The views expressed in our opinion section are those of the author concerned and not that of all of outlookindia.com or all its authors.
8. Please also note that you are solely responsible for the comments posted by you on the site. The comments could be deleted or edited entirely at our discretion if we find them objectionable. However, the mere fact of their existence on our site does not mean that we necessarily approve of their contents. In short, the onus of responsibility for the comments remains solely with the authors thereof. Outlookindia.com or any of its group publications, may, however, retains the right to publish any of these comments, with or without editing, in any medium whatsoever. It is therefore in your own interest to be careful before posting.
9.Outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for how any search engine -- such as Google, Bing etc -- caches or displays these comments. Please note that you are solely responsible for posting these comments and it is a privilege being granted to our registered users which can be withdrawn in case of abuse. To reiterate:
a. Comments once posted can only be deleted at the discretion of outlookindia.com
b. The comments reflect the views of the authors and not of outlookindia.com
c. outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for the way search engines cache or display these comments
d. Please therefore take due caution before you post any comments as your words could potentially be used against you
10. We have an online thread for our comments policy:
You are welcome to post your suggestions here or in case you have a specific issue, to directly email us at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT