Residents of three remote Arunachal Pradesh districts bordering China have cited military disadvantage among other reasons in their letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi drawing his attention to a proposed National Highway project that has been awaiting formal clearance since 2018. The project, once completed would significantly reduce the distance between this sensitive border region to state capital Itanagar.
The letter, written by the Core Committee of the Ziro Tai Anando Bagan Highway Committee, comes within days of five people from state's Upper Subansiri district straying into China, and being handed back to India amid ongoing tension along the Indo-China border in eastern Ladakh since early this year.
The incident has brought into focus how vulnerable is the 1,129-km-stretch of McMahon Line - an imaginary boundary dividing Arunachal Pradesh from China's Tibet Autonomous Region. China claims Arunachal Pradesh as part of South Tibet. In the 1962 Indo-China war, the state, including Upper Subansiri, was the theatre of action.
The letter draws the Prime Minister Modi's attention towards the proposed 75km National Highway from state's Meb-Geko to Gerukamukh-Gogamukh in Assam via Itanagar.
The letter states that the road, once built, would not only reduce the distance between Itanagar and the border districts of Upper Subansiri, Siang and Kamle, it will also ensure speedy movement of troops, heavy artillery and logistic support systems in the event of any national emergency.
According to committee Chairman Larbin Nasi, the proposed national highway was cleared in principle in 2017 and a final feasibility report was cleared in 2018, but the project has since awaited formal clearance.
"The proposed highway also bring down the distance between Daporijo - a nerve centre for this area - to Itanagar to 190 km," Mr Nasi said, adding that Daporijo is just 200km away from the Indo-China border.
The existing Daporijo-Itanagar road via Ziro is 335-km-long, and the alternative route via Basar-Likabali is 375 kms.
"Both these roads have remained in a deplorable condition since they were taken over in 20019 by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways from the Border Roads Organisation," the letter states.
Talking about the military implications of bad connectivity, Mr Nasi said the proposed highway will be helpful as "border posts under the control of the Indian Army are reportedly under serious threat now".
"The Chinese have reportedly built massive infrastructure near these posts - Sera-1 to Sera-9 - whereas there is no road on the Indian side," the letter states.
According to Indian Army, the area under these three districts is among the remotest and most treacherous along the McMahon line in Arunachal Pradesh, which has not seen any major conflict since the 1962 war.
It takes the Army and ITBP jawans deputed here more than a week's trek - through extremely dense high-altitude jungles - to carry out their regular long-range patrolling with the help of local porters and guides.
"If these posts are captured by China, PLA (People's Liberation Army) will be in (an) advantageous position because of their heights. As such, the threat of intrusion by PLA is imminent and is all the more vulnerable now with porous international border. The construction of this highway has become all the more relevant and urgent in view of current border conflict," Nasi said.