The under construction Sela tunnel Tawang, Arunachal, situated at an altitude of 13,000 feet

India has doubled the pace of building strategic infrastructure along the Himalayan border to match China's aggressive push in the region

Years before tension along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh spiralled into a crisis in April 2020, leading to a protracted face-off between the Indian Army and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China, it was widely acknowledged that the Chinese were building infrastructure at a fast pace to enable men and materiel to be deployed on border areas in the shortest possible time. Indian reaction to Chinese activity on the LAC as well as along the McMahon Line in the Northeast was slow, but picked up pace after 2014, as the NDA government took multiple measures to improve infrastructure. 

Thus, from 2008 to 2014, 7,270 metres of bridges were built, while 14,450 metres were completed between 2014 and 2020. Similarly, between 2008 and 2014, 3,610 km of border roads were constructed, while the corresponding figure for 2014 to 2020 was 4,764 km.

The Indian military believes that improved connectivity to forward areas of the LAC has allowed Indian army patrols to be more thorough, and is directly responsible for frequent skirmishes with the PLA in recent years. “Road construction on the Indian side of the LAC always triggers crises, because of accessibility to Indian patrols. And it always annoys the Chinese military,” says former Northern Army commander Lt Gen D.S. Hooda (Retd). 

Indeed, in May 2020, one apparent reason for the PLA’s sudden hostility was India’s scaling up of the 255-km high-altitude Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldi (DS-DBO) road, that connects Leh to the Karakoram pass—a sensitive matter for China. With the tocsin of the stand-off still ringing, infrastructure construction on the border with China has received a fresh impetus. Having learnt bitter lessons from the past, the military’s emphasis is now on building roads, habitat, bridges, helipads and airstrips to match the Chinese. China, too, is not letting up on further sharpening their own advanced preparedness.