The Ministry of Defence has asked for 11 special trains to transport around 12,000 workers from Jharkhand for road construction near the China border, reported Hindustan Times. The workers would be first taken to Jammu and Chandigarh and then ferried to regions close to the border areas in Uttarakhand, Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, and Jammu and Kashmir.
Sources told Hindustan Times that the directive to the Railway Ministry to arrange 11 special trains to carry 11,815 migrant workers from Jharkhand was made by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs on May 22. The critical move by the Defence Ministry comes amidst the military standoff between the Indian and Chinese forces at four locations along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
Three officials familiar with the matter informed, on the condition of anonymity, that the Government could not afford to lose time in the working season, which extends from May to November. They conceded that the standoff is uncertain and may continue for weeks. As such, pending road projects cannot be stalled for an indefinite period. Some work has already started on the strategic Darbuk-Shyok-Daulet Beg Oldie road in Ladakh.
Reportedly, Home Minister Amit Shah had apprised Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren about the matter on Thursday. The issue was discussed when he spoke to the Chief Ministers about India’s exit plan from the lockdown. Most workers hail from Dumka in Jharkhand. The State Government has been asked to inform the Union Government when such a journey could be facilitated by the Indian Railways. Standard operation procedures (SOPs) laid down by the Centre on May 19 will be followed for the movement of workers to the China border.
On Thursday, Hindustan Times had reported that the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) was planning to hire 40000 workers for road and tunnel construction near China border, despite the Coronavirus outbreak. According to Lt Gen SL Narasimhan, the development of infrastructure is critical in areas adjoining international borders, for both military and civilian purpose.
Reportedly, on May 15, the Ladakh administration had also written to BRO granting no objection to the workers who have inducted for the project. However, adherence to social distancing guidelines and mandatory quarantine for 14 days is a must for workers arriving in Ladakh from other places. The BRO is tasked to complete 61 strategic roads along the border by the end of 2022. It will help in faster mobilisation of armed forces to forward zones.
The Standoff at LAC
About 5000 Chinese army personnel, under the garb of a military exercise, had diverted their movement towards the Indian side of the LAC (Line of Actual Control). The current stand-off began on May 5-6 and has been continuing all along the LAC up to Sikkim. The Indian Army had matched the level of their counterparts and had stopped them from conducting movements in several areas. As per the ANI report, Indian forces had also been airlifted from other high altitude areas to the Eastern Ladakh sector.
China seeks De-escalation
The tensions between India and China along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) eased a bit on Wednesday as China began to de-escalate the conflict through a conciliatory approach by saying that the situation at the border with India is “overall stable and controllable.” The firm and strong posturing by India in response to Chinese decision to intimidate the country along the LAC, perhaps, made Chinese to seek a de-escalation of the matter. As per a report in CGTN, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian stated that both China and India have proper mechanisms and communication channels to resolve the issues through ‘dialogue and consultations’.