India is rushing to build border bridges to catch up with China 1India is rushing to build border bridges to catch up with China 1

The construction site is near Chilling village in the Ladakh region, about 250 km west of the site of the most serious confrontation between India and China in nearly 50 years.

Ligen Eliyas, a BRO excavator driver, takes a break during work on September 17.

When completed, it will be the only access to much of Ladakh, including the border areas.

`It will help the army move more easily once completed,` Eliyas said, his clothes and face covered in dust.

The long-running conflict in the remote western Himalayan region erupted in a bloody clash in June, when 20 Indian soldiers were killed and China suffered unknown casualties.

The 283km Nimmu-Padam-Darcha (NPD) Expressway, where Eliyas is working, is expected to be completed in three years.

The road connects to an 8.8 km long tunnel that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate in a few weeks, connecting to the snowy desert of Ladakh bordering Tibet.

Two major highways connecting Ladakh with the rest of India are closed for at least four months during winter.

With thousands of soldiers stationed on the border and no signs of withdrawal, India is pushing harder to destroy mountains to build a trans-Himalayan road.

`We will not back down from any difficulty for the good of the country,` Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh told parliament this month, saying the government had doubled the budget for construction.

Indian officials say the rush of construction this summer has been accused by China of causing instability in the mountainous region.

`China does not recognize the so-called ‘Ladakh Union Territory’ illegally established by India and opposes the construction of infrastructure in the border area for the purpose of military control,` the office said.

According to the most recent agreement between the two sides, neither side is allowed to take any action that further complicates the situation in the border area.

India is rushing to build border bridges to catch up with China

Excavators dig soil and rock at the Ladakh area highway construction site on September 17.

Ladakh separated from Indian-administered Kashmir in August last year after New Delhi stripped the Muslim-majority Himalayan region of its autonomy.

China’s network of roads, railways, logistics warehouses and helipads allows the country to quickly move troops to the region within hours, according to Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, an expert at the Observatory Research Foundation.

`China’s infrastructure build-up is not only intended to deploy forces quickly, but also to help maintain forces in that area for a longer period of time,` Rajagopalan said.

NK Jain, commander of the Border Roads Organization (BRO), India’s state-owned construction arm, said the NPD project began in 1999 but was frozen for many years until a few years ago.

`Our work is going on at double the pace over the last two years,` Jain said.

B Kishen, BRO’s executive engineer responsible for overseeing the project near Chilling, said drills are pushing explosives deeper and faster to blow away the mountain, improving the speed of construction.

One recent afternoon, dozens of workers were clearing dirt and rocks from a newly blown-up road section.

Work will continue through the harsh winter, when temperatures drop below minus 40 degrees Celsius and high winds at altitudes above 3,300 meters above sea level make road construction even more difficult, Kishen said.

The government has identified 74 important strategic routes along the Chinese border, of which 61 routes belong to BRO running across 3,300 km of border.

India is rushing to build border bridges to catch up with China

Workers paint road protection railings at a highway construction site in Ladakh, India, on September 17.

The road network, when completed, will shorten travel times between important Indian military bases, allowing faster troop mobilization and easier patrolling in some areas, according to an Indian official.

`It will help reduce military spending,` the official said, adding that all-weather roads would replace costly air transport operations during the winter months.

`We will have a better chance of catching up with China’s pace,` he said.

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