In New Delhi: 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 with the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) and the defence establishment declined to discuss exact project timelines, they claimed that this is a “important project which is being sped 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 will 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 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 will give the military 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 has already voiced concerns about the project in 2014 after learning that it had received a 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 spokesman Hong Lei had said, “We hope the Indian side will not take any action that will further complicate the relevant issue before 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.
“The problem at our end is that terrain is tougher with several places needing tunneling unlike the Chinese who have a flatter terrain on their side of the LAC. However, we now have the same equipment that the Chinese have,” one of the sources said.
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 were announced by the Centre for the Northeast earlier this month.
Pema Khandu, the chief minister of Arunachal Pradesh, had stated on Monday regarding the proposed motorway, “1962 was history and will never be repeated ever. In 1962, the scenario was very different. Infrastructure in the region was very poor. Despite that the Indian Army fought bravely and sacrificed thousands of lives to protect the motherland. But today, we are not what we were in 1962.”
When asked 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 troops now have three paved access roads that lead straight to the region.
Major improvement in military capability
According to sources, the proposed roadway and other ongoing 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, will be the longest bi-lane tunnel in the world at an altitude above 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 private and military vehicles will have year-round mobility thanks to this critical tunnel and the Nechiphu Tunnel on the 317 km Balipara-Charduar-Tawang (BCT) road 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 area since it has main and escape tunnels that are each 1,555 m long, as well as a shorter tunnel of 980 m and roughly 1.2 km of road. The Chinese can currently see the Sela Pass.
The tunnels are made to allow any army equipment, such as tanks and Vajra howitzers, to transit through them while keeping out of the path of the Chinese spies while also reducing travel time with access throughout the year.