New Delhi (Sputnik) — In a bid to ensure all-weather connectivity between the mainland and the hinterlands bordering China, the Indian government has announced the construction of a tunnel at the majestic Sela Pass that sits at 14000 feet above sea level. Primarily, the idea is to cut down the time taken by troops to travel to Tawang — a potential military flashpoint for its disputed status.
"The tunnels would cut down at least an hour of travel time between the Army's 4 Corps headquarters at Tezpur and Tawang. Moreover, the tunnels would ensure that NH 13 and especially the 171-km stretch between Bomdila and Tawang, remains accessible in all weather conditions," a statement issued by the Border Roads Organization (BRO) reads.
India's Minister of Finance Arun Jaitley confirmed the plan during the presentation of the annual budget in Parliament on Thursday.
"To secure India's defenses, we are developing connectivity infrastructure in border areas. Rohtang tunnel has been completed to provide all-weather connectivity to the Ladakh region. The contract for construction of Zozila Pass tunnel of more than 14 kilometers is progressing well. I now propose to take up construction of the tunnel under Sela Pass," Arun Jaitley said.
The Border Roads Organisation (BRO) had announced the tunnel construction project at Sela in July 2017, sharing details of two tunnels. The length of one tunnel will be 475 meters while the other 1.79 km will bypass Sela and several hairpin bends.
The current roads connecting Tawang with the mainland remain blocked during the long snowy winters. Troops currently depend on helicopters for transportation of personnel and supplies. Evacuation of casualties is also done by helicopters.
China had cautioned India to adopt a restrained attitude on infrastructure development in regions where consensus has not been reached between the countries.
"We hope India adopts a cautious and restrained attitude on the issue before the final settlement of the border issue with China to jointly control disputes, safeguard peace and tranquillity in the border areas," the Chinese Foreign Ministry had told news agency IANS in May 2017.
The two countries accuse each other of occupying each other's territory along the 3,500 kilometers-long disputed border that traverses through the Indian states of Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.