China watchers will recall that it was in 2006 that the Cabinet Committee on Security(CCS), which takes the final decision on India's security matters had decided to reverse the decades old policy of NOT building infrastructure in the border areas, lest the Chinese get easier access to Indian areas in the event of a skirmish!
The late realisation and start to improve infrastructure--both military and civil--in these remote areas however means that at least for decade, India's military preparedness there will remain tenuous.
Over the past one year, having travelled to both Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh, I am convinced that India has the right intention but somehow lacks the means to get its act together in building and improving infrastructure. There are multiple agencies involved in planning and giving clearances for border projects. Although the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) is primarily responsible for road and bridge building in these areas, it is hampered by a number of shortcomings. Having told the BRO to construct 73 strategic Roads in 2006, it was expected that these roads will be ready by its original deadline of 2012. Unfortunately on a fraction of the work has been completed
As a quasi-military organization the BRO is entrusted with building and maintaining these strategic roads and come rain or winter, its labourers work to keep the only road link to Tawang in Arunachal Prdaesh open through the year but at the moment they are fighting a losing battle, as I saw during my travel there. The fault lies not with them but with people higher up who planned the widening of the only road without building an alternative.
Constant landslips, frequent blockades are a recurring challenge. But landslides apart , BRO officials told me that they are plagued by a shortage of labour in this sector. Earlier, large groups from Jharkhand and Bihar made their way to these parts. No longer, since now plenty of work is available in their home states. Excruciatingly slow environmental clearances both by the central and state governments add to the delays. In Arunachal Pradesh, nearly five months of Monsoon followed by a couple of months of intense cold and snowfall means, the working season is limited to less than six months.
In Ladakh too, the situation is no different. Snow and severe winter leaves the road and infrastructure builders just about six months of work time through the year. But as state government officials in a remote sub-division like Nyoma in south eastern Ladakh told me last fortnight the clearances have started flowing in faster than before. The road from Upshi to Demchok for instance is currently witnessing intense broadening and improvement work. Demchok is the place where maximum face offs have occurred between Indian Army and Chinese PLA patrols. The Indus also enters India at this extreme south-east corner of Ladakh.
Similarly, the Centre and the State government must go the extra distance to support the nomadic tribes that live along the remote Ladakh frontier. The further these grazers keep going in search of pasteur for their cattle, the better it is for Indian authorities to lay a claim on the undemarcated borders. These nomads should get full material help in their quest for a better life and access to more grazing land in the border areas.
We all recognise that 2013 is not 1962.
India's military capability is far far better than it was then; And finally there is too much at stake for Beijing to launch any overt aggression.