Photos of Chinese tents near South Pangong lake clicked by residents in Ladakh’s Chushul district in December 2020. Photo shared with “The Hindu” by Chusul councillor Konchok Stanzin

Chushul councillor Konchok Stanzin says residents have seen several Chinese tents, bunkers and vehicles very close to border villages

Konchok Stanzin, a councillor from Chushul in eastern Ladakh said Chinese infrastructure that could not be seen from border villages earlier is now clearly visible as China continues to hold positions in areas within India’s perception of the Line of Actual Control.

In an interview to The Hindu, Mr. Stanzin said residents have witnessed a large number of Chinese tents, bunkers and vehicles very close to the border villages in Chushul, Merak and Khakted, in clear departure from the past.

Pastures Cut-Off

Mr. Stanzin said nomads who live in villages close to Pangong Tso (lake), one of the multiple locations where Indian and Chinese troops are engaged in a standoff since April-May 2020, have not been able to access winter grazing grounds this year due to heavy troop deployment.

Mr. Stanzin, who won as an Independent in the recently concluded Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC), is part of a delegation from the Union Territory that has been camping in Delhi for the past one week to get their various demands heard by the Central government. They have met Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh.

Ladakh was declared a Union Territory without legislature after the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir was downgraded and bifurcated into two Union Territories on August 5, 2019 by Parliament.

Google Maps image locates Merak and Chusul in Ladakh

Access For Vehicles

“At Black Top in South Pangong, where in the year 2018, only a camera existed on the Chinese side, today we regularly see Chinese vehicles and tents. While in other areas where they could reach the top in their vehicles, we cannot even take our horses and porters due to unfavourable terrain,” Mr. Stanzin said. He added that there are many spots in the Finger area that have been occupied by the Chinese and if an aerial survey is conducted it extends up to the upper reaches of Finger 2.

As reported earlier by The Hindu, China has ingressed about 8 km in the Finger area and Indian troops have not been able to patrol beyond Finger 4 since the last week of April 2020, when China started amassing troops. Earlier, Indian troops could patrol up to Finger 8.

The other areas where Chinese build-up continues are the Depsang plains, Galwan, Gogra-Hot Springs and south bank of Pangong lake.

Mr. Stanzin claimed that China has been nibbling away at Indian territory since May 2018.

“As a strategy the Chinese encourage their nomads and provide facilities so that they can come with their livestock and mark the territory as their own. On our side, we have to take several clearances, have to show our I-cards, our livestock are counted, even then sometimes we are not permitted,” he added. He said he had requested the Defence Minister to permit the nomads to go in the Finger area for winter grazing.

“The months of December, January and February are crucial for the livestock. We applied for permission for winter grazing more than a month ago. The area for winter grazing has anyway shrunk due to heavy troop deployment,” he pointed out.

Inadequate Facilities

Referring to poor communication facilities, Mr Stanzin said the border villages get only 2G mobile connectivity and power supply charged by solar panels for not more than 2-3 hours in a day.

“The porters who helped the Army have not been paid their wages for the past 2-3 months. The border population considers themselves as soldiers without uniforms. We have taken up the issue with the Defence Minister,” he said.