Saturday, December 2, 2023

Mega Strategic Boost: Arunachal Frontier Highway, India’s Toughest Projects Yet

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The Arunachal Frontier Highway, one of the biggest and most difficult projects in the nation, is the centrepiece of India’s vast infrastructure construction programme, which was launched after seven decades of inaction on creating border connectivity in the Northeast.

Although officials from the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) and the defence establishment declined to discuss exact project timeframes, they claimed that this is an “important project which is being hurried up.”

Modern equipment has been sent to expedite the entire process, and work on the project has already begun in some places, they noted.

The project is a 2,000 km long motorway that follows the McMahon Line and was formerly opposed by China. The route will start at Mago in the neighbouring state of Arunachal Pradesh, which borders Bhutan, and continue through Tawang, Upper Subansiri, Tuting, Mechuka, Upper Siang, Debang Valley, Desali, Chaglagam, Kibithu, and Dong before coming to an end at Vijayanagar, which is close to the Myanmar border.

This project would cost at least Rs 40,000 crore and will cover the entire Line of Actual Control (LAC) next to Arunachal Pradesh. It was referred to as “one of India’s biggest and trickiest” road construction projects by sources.

The East-West Industrial Corridor Highway, the Trans-Arunachal Highway, and the Frontier Highway will all be added to Arunachal Pradesh as a result of this project.

The construction of six interstate highway corridors totaling 2,178 km will add to the lacking link between the three roads and speed up access to border regions.

The routes include the 404-kilometer-long Kanubari-Longding Highway, the 391-kilometer-long Itakhola-Pakke-Kessang-Seppa-Parsi Parlo Highway, the 285-kilometer-long Gogamukh-Taliha-Tato Highway, the 398-kilometer-long Akajan-Jorging-Pango Highway, the 298-kilometer-long Pasighat-Bishing Highway,

According to sources, the Arunachal Frontier Highway would provide the military with a substantial capabilities boost by enabling the smooth and quick movement of personnel and equipment to the border as needed for induction and de-induction.

When Kiren Rijiju was the Minister of State for Home in 2014 and in charge of border relations, he promoted the initiative. The Home Ministry requested a thorough project study from the MoRTH in order to kick up the project that same year.

China already voiced concerns about the project in 2014 after learning that it had received preliminary approval from the Prime Minister’s Office. In order to maintain the existing state of peace and stability in the border region, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said, “We hope the Indian side will not take any action that will further complicate the relevant issue until the border dispute is handled.”

According to sources, the Border Roads Organisation, the MoRTH, and other agencies are among those carrying out the project in close cooperation with one another.

Faced with an aggressive China, India has been accelerating construction on a number of bridges that can convey heavy equipment to tunnels, motorways, and feeder roads all the way up to the LAC in the Northeast, with a particular focus on Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim.

As part of efforts to match the pace at which the Chinese are creating infrastructure on their side, a significant amount of specialised and cutting-edge road and tunnelling equipment was introduced, according to sources.

Unlike the Chinese, who have a smoother topography on their side of the LAC, our end of the LAC has a rougher terrain with some locations requiring digging. However, we now possess the same tools as the Chinese, according to one of the sources.

Arunachal Pradesh received the majority of the work, at Rs 44,000 crore, of the total highway projects costing Rs 1.6 lakh crore that was announced by the Centre for the Northeast earlier this month.

Pema Khandu, the chief minister of Arunachal Pradesh, stated on Monday that 1962 was history and would never be repeated. The situation was substantially different in 1962. The region’s infrastructure was extremely lacking. In spite of this, the Indian Army fought valiantly and sacrificed hundreds of its soldiers’ lives to defend the homeland. We are not what we were in 1962, nevertheless, today.

When questioned about the infrastructure improvements in Sikkim since the 2017 Doklam standoff, sources declined to provide specifics but did say that, unlike in the past, Indian forces now have three paved access roads that lead straight to the region.

According to sources, the proposed roadway and other current initiatives will significantly improve the Army’s capacity to travel from one valley to another.

Interestingly, inter-valley troop and equipment movement is the main focus of practically every military practise in the Northeast.

The 2.535 km Sela tunnel, when finished, would be the longest bi-lane tunnel in the world at an altitude of over 13,000 feet. It will provide all-weather communication to Tawang, giving the armed forces their first significant boost.

Since the Sela pass is closed during the winter, the Army and the general public currently travel to Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh through the Balipara-Chariduar Road (Assam).

Both civilian and military vehicles will enjoy year-round mobility thanks to this critical tunnel and the Nechiphu Tunnel on the 317 km Balipara-Charduar-Tawang (BCT) route that connects the districts of West Kameng and Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh.

As previously mentioned, the Sela Tunnel project will make sure that the Chinese are unable to monitor traffic flow in the region since it has main and escape tunnels that are each 1,555 m long, as well as a shorter tunnel of 980 m and around 1.2 km of road. The Chinese can presently see the Sela Pass.

The tunnels are built so that all army equipment, including tanks and Vajra howitzers, may transit through them, shielded from the Chinese spying eyes and reducing travel time with year-round access.

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