Infrastructure News

India’s infra play to counter China threat, ET Infra


Since November 12, about 41 workers have been trapped inside an under-construction tunnel after it collapsed. The Union Cabinet had approved construction of this 4.5 km two-lane bi-directional tunnet at Silkyara bend nearly 50 km from Uttarkashi in Uttrakhand in 2018. The tunnel is on NH-134 in Uttarakhand and is part of the Char Dham project. NH-134 will reach Yamunotri, one of the four pilgrimage centres the Char Dham project aims to link with roads. The others are Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had laid the foundation stone of the project in 2016. The project, called Char Dham Mahamarg, will comprise nearly 900 km of highways, including several bridges and tunnels, and will cost Rs 12,000 crore. The project had courted controversy due to concerns raised over building of roads in ecoologically fragile areas.

The Char Dham project controversy

In 2018, several NGOs challenged the project in the National Green Tribunal (NGT), arguing that construction of roads would harm the already fragile mountain ecosystem due to excavation, deforestation and collection of resultant debris on the hills, all of which could contribute to landslides.

The NGT ruled out the need for environment impact assessment since it was not a single project but several different roads, each less than 100 km. It had suggested constitution of a panel to oversee environmental aspects of the project. But the NGT order was challenged in the Supreme Court. The SC ordered that the carriageway width for the Char Dham project should not exceed 5.5 metre as prescribed in a 2018 circular of the Union Road Transport Ministry.

The Defence Ministry sought a modification in the order to allow the width to be of 10 metre so that heavy machinery like missile launchers could be easily moved up to the Indo-China border. The government had argued that wide highways were required since they would work as feeder roads to the Indo-China border and help move soldiers and heavy weaponry in case of a conflict. The SC had then asked a high-powered committee to oversee the project.

Acknowledging the defence forces’ need for better roads in border areas for operational reasons in view of the tensions along the India-China border, the SC in December 2021 allowed the government’s Char Dham project to continue provided all mitigation measures were taken to deal with the environmental consequences of building such roads in this eco-sensitive region.

Soon after, the chairman of the Supreme Court-appointed high-powered committee submitted his resignation. The main reason behind the resignation was the apex court assigning the work to oversee almost 70% of the Char Dham project to an oversight committee headed by a retired judge. The jurisdiction of the high-powered committee was limited to two ‘non-defence’ stretches: Rudraprayag-Kedarnath (70km) and Dharasu to Janki Chati (70km). The Silkyara bend tunnel, which has partly collapsed now, falls on the Dharasu to Janki Chati stretch.The Modi government has been building infrastructure along the Indo-China border at a fast pace. The roads, bridges and tunnels not only help mark the border ares which have been long disputed between the two countries but also facilitate in easy mobility of soldiers and wepaons during conflicts.

While addressing a public gathering in October this year in Uttrakhand’s Pithoragarh, which borders with China, Modi said that unlike previous governments, development of border areas was on his priority list. “In the past nine years, we’ve constructed 4,200-km roads along the borders, made 250 new bridges and 22 tunnels. Soon trains will be reaching the border areas,” he said.

Due to China’s huge construction along the border, especially of dual-use villages which turn into military sites during conflicts, India is spending billions of dollars to build civilian as well as military infrastructure along the border in Ladakh, Uttrakhand, SIkkim and Arunachal Pradesh.

The government informed the Rajya Sabha in August that 168 of the 662 villages bordering China, which have been earmarked for an infrastructure boost under the Vibrant Villages Programme (VVP), do not have road connectivity. 134 of these 168 “unconnected” villages were in Arunachal Pradesh, while 21 were in Himachal Pradesh, 10 in Uttarakhand and three in Sikkim. The VVP, approved in February this year, envisages comprehensive development of 662 villages of 46 blocks abutting the northern border in 19 districts of Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh.

The thrust on border infrastructure development is taking place amid heightened military tensions with China all along the 3,488-km long Line of Actual Control (LAC), as the border between India and China is called due to variuous disputed areas.

The partial collapse of the Slkiyari bend tunnel is not going to discourage India’s expansion of border infratstructure and the incident will be a learning for organisations involved in road construction in challenging mountain areas. In fact, the government is starting construction of the strategically crucial 4.1-km tunnel under the forbidding Shinkun La, on the border between Ladakh and Himachal Pradesh for ‘alternative’ all-weather connectivity to Ladakh. The traffic movement in the twin-tube tunnel, which will not be vulnerable to long-range artillery shelling or missile firings either by China or Pakistan, at an altitude of over 16,500-feet on the Manali-Darcha-Padam-Nimu axis, will ensure troops and heavy weaponry can be swiftly moved to forward areas.

Two months ago, as many as 90 projects including the crucial Nechiphu tunnel on the road to Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, two revamped airfields in West Bengal, two helipads, 22 roads and 63 bridges were formally inaugurated by defence minister Rajnath Singh.

  • Published On Nov 23, 2023 at 10:05 PM IST

Join the community of 2M+ industry professionals

Subscribe to our newsletter to get latest insights & analysis.

Get updates on your preferred social platform

Follow us for the latest news, insider access to events and more.


Source link