The four roads in eastern Ladakh are:
• Lukumg-Phobrang-Chartse Pt 4433 77.5 km;
• Chisumle-Demchok 24 km;
• Koyal-Chisumle-Zarsar 80 km and
• Karzok-Chumar 69 km link.
These had been planned under the integrated border development plan years ago but clearances from the Environment Ministry had been hanging fire for the past two years.
The final approval came on Friday from the three-member special environment bench headed by Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan, within 10 minutes of the hearing, as it accepted long-awaited recommendations of the court-appointed Central Empowered Committee CEC.
These roads are crucial for the armed forces as they provide links to the border in the Pangong Tso lake area which is notorious for transgressions by Chinese troops as well as to the border post of Demchok on the Line Of Actual Control.
What was holding up permissions was that all these roads pass through the Changthang cold desert wildlife sanctuary in Ladakh, reports Indian Express.
The roads are part of broader plan to improve connectivity along the border and had been identified as a priority area by the China Study Group.
While pushing for an early clearance of approvals, the Defence Ministry said that the China study group had recommended “a high operational preparedness” in the region by laying down a communication network of roads to ensure mobilization of troops and resources to the affected areas.
The Home Ministry also apprised the CEC that construction “is absolutely necessary for meeting the operational requirement of Army, particularly for the movement of troops and heavy artillery in the time of war.”
According to the CEC report, the Koyal-Chisumle-Zarsar and the Karzok-Chumar Road are proposed to be built by ITBP at the cost of Rs 237 crore and Rs 152 crore respectively.
Similarly, the Home Ministry which sought approval for Lukumg-Phobrang-Chartse Pt 4433 road's construction claimed that entire road falls in the cold desert wildlife sanctuary and is of “strategic importance, being the link to the international border with China.”
Significantly, in the case of the Chisumle-Demchok road, the Defence Ministry said that the original requirement of a mule track was upgraded to a road after a “review of defence preparedness in the area” this March following increased deployments across the border that led to a change in the “operational perspective in the area.”
The road is now being realigned so that heavy equipment can be moved, indicating that the Army is planning to deploy guns and possibly even tanks in the region.
On a similar note, the air force today activated another airstrip along the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh — the third such strip to be opened in the past two years — with the landing of an AN-32 transport aircraft at the Nyoma Advanced Landing Ground ALG.
The airstrip, barely 20 km from the border, can now be used for rapid induction of troops and reinforcements along the border and will be a major boost for the Army that till now had to depend on helicopters for supplies like food and ammunition in the region.
While the other two airstrips activated in the area — Fukche and Daulat Beg Oldi — were old landing grounds that were revived by the air force, the Nyoma ALG has been used for fixed-wing aircraft operations for the first time.
The reopening of the landing strip is part of a larger plan to improve connectivity along the Chinese border which includes construction of new roads, surfacing of existing tracks and activating helicopter and fixed wing landing bases.
With three airstrips activated along the border, the Army is now preparing to activate the Chushul advanced landing ground at a height of over 5,000 m.