While the Indian Army is preparing for a long haul at the Line of Actual Control in Eastern Ladakh, New Delhi is pushing to complete the first all-weather strategic road to Ladakh that will link Darcha in Himachal Pradesh to Nimu via Padum in Kargil’s Zanskar valley, reported Hindustan Times citing its sources.
The road is already connected to by two other routes; the first via Zoji La in Jammu and Kashmir and the second, via Himachal’s Manali-Upshi-Leh axis. Nimu is 35 kilometers from Leh town and headquarters of XIV Corps responsible for the defense of East Ladakh and Siachen Glacier.
The 8.8 kilometer Atal tunnel is expected to be constructed by September this year. It will run below the Rohtang Pass reducing the distance between Manali and Leh by 46 kilometers. The Manali-Sarchu-Leh road is shut down for a period of six months (between November and May) every year due to heavy snowfall.
“We have planned to complete 15 Strategic Roads in FY 2020-21. Also, two Strategic Roads are planned to be fully connected in 2020-21,” a senior officer said to Express.
HT reported that senior military commanders said the third route to feed Ladakh by road is urgently needed given how Pakistan and its all-weather friend, China were eyeing the Siachen Glacier and Daulat Beg Oldie.
Minister for Road Transport & Highways, Nitin Gadkari, and General V.K. Singh are pushing to complete this road project with China moving its soldiers. To achieve the two-year deadline, the Transport Ministry has proposed that the responsibility to build the tunnel should be given to the same company that constructed the 9.02 km tunnel at Rohtang La on the condition that it meets the timeline.
A third passage that has been under works for a decade, the up-gradation of the Darcha-Padum-Nimu trekking route, is scheduled to be completed in the next two years by the defense ministry.
“We are looking to build a road that bisects the Leh-Kargil highway around Lamayuru monastery and connects Darcha via Padum. This road will allow the Indian military and the local population to get round-the-year supplies… The route is not under the prying eyes of the Pakistan Army as in Kaksar in Kargil district or the DSDBO (Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie) route that is under the observation of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA),” said a former army chief.
However, the Darcha-Padum-Nimu route requires only a single 4.5 km tunnel through the 16,570 feet Shingo La between Darcha and Padum so that the road is closed only for two months.
Darcha and Padum are 148 kilometers away with Zanskar sub-divisional town connected to Kargil via a 230-km long single lane road. Work is already on to construct the Darcha-Padum road with another 260 km road work in progress between Padum and Nimu, the 14 Corps headquarters in Ladakh.
After the violent clash in the Galwan valley in June, India and China have been at loggerheads. Disengagement process through military and diplomatic channels is underway but Beijing’s reluctance to budge is seen as a way to establish a new normal at the Line of Actual Control (LAC).