The construction of the crucial road link to the last Indian post of Lipulekh Pass in Uttarakhand on the Chinese border could take several more months, the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), which is undertaking the project, has hinted even as experts have stressed on accelerating the work on a ‘war footing’ amid an escalating tension with China.
Lipulekh pass located at an altitude of 17,000 feet in Chaudans valley of Dharchula sub-district in Pithoragarh district connects India with Tibet (China).
The Lipulekh pass is used mostly by Kailash Mansarovar pilgrims to reach the famous Hindu pilgrimage site in Tibet and local traders, who are engaged in barter with Tibetan traders since decades. The construction of the roads through Uttarakhand would make it easy for people to visit Kailash-Mansarovar.
The Sikkim route to Mansarovar, which was opened in 2015 to enable pilgrims to travel the 1500-km long route from Nathu La to Kailash by buses, has been closed by China amid an ongoing border stand-off over the construction of a road by Chinese troops in Doklam area in the state.
China has accused Indian troops of trespassing into Doklam, which the Chinese refer to as Donglang, a disputed territory claimed by Bhutan.
In June last year, Union surface transport minister Nitin Gadkari said it would be completed by April 2017. The Centre gave a go ahead for road connectivity until the end of the border almost a decade ago.
The BRO is undertaking the 76-km road project through a rugged mountainous terrain between Ghatiabagarh and Lipulekh. BRO officials said the challenging stretch of the road is yet to be built and could take ‘many more’ months.
“A 50-km stretch of the road has been laid and remaining 26-km rocky portion is the most challenging,” Major Manish Narayan, commanding officer (BRO), told the Hindustan Times recently.
SS Pangti, a retired bureaucrat who hails from Johar valley on the India-China border, said the road connectivity till the Himalayan pass is strategically vital from the point of view of keeping an eye on Chinese activities in western Tibet.
“At least for the security of the nation, greater emphasis on Uttarakhand roads right up to its borders is much needed. If roads could be built up to Nathula (Sikkim) and Shipki-la (Himachal) and many other high passes in the Himalayan belt, why not up to Lepulekh?” Pangti asks.
The BRO said they are doing every bit to complete the connectivity at the earliest. The Indian Air Force helicopters lift construction material from Pithoragarh air base to the site and at times it has to be halted due to inclement weather. The work at present has been stopped due to the ongoing Mansarovar pilgrimage.
“The work will resume after the pilgrimage is over in September. After that several villagers in the upper reaches migrate to lower areas and we have asked the BRO to continue work only on given time frame” C Ravishankar, district magistrate of Pithoragarh, told HT.
The India and China agreed on restarting pilgrimage and trade through Lipulekh in 1982, two decades after both the countries engaged in a war. India shares an international boundary with China via two districts of Uttarakhand – Pithoragarh and Chamoli.
From time to time there had been reports of Chinese intrusion into the Indian territory in Chamoli. Last month, a Chinese helicopter reportedly violated the Indian air space by entering Barahoti area of Chamoli.
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