The recent conflict between India and China at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh has as its heart at the border constructions that India has been pursuing along the LAC. In this regard, the Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie (DSDBO) road assumes significance as it had caused China some concern in the past and is suspected to be at the heart of the current dispute as well.
The 255 km-long all-weather road runs almost parallel to the LAC and took the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) almost two decades to complete. The DSDBO road connects Leh to Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO). DBO is in the northernmost corner of Ladakh, which the Army refers to as sub-sector North. And as fate would have it, the Congress government had jeopardised Indian national security by engaging in fraud in the construction of the important road as well.
An inquiry conducted by the Chief Technical Examiner (CTE), on the instructions of the CVC, discovered in 2011 that the road had been laid on flat terrain and not on the mountains as per the approved plan, as reported in an Indian Express report. The construction of the road in such a manner meant that it got damaged every summer due to the flooding of the Shyok River caused by melting snow.
Thus, from June to October, the road remained close for as many as 94 days due to the flooding. Then Leh-based Chief Engineer of Project Himank, Brigadier Rizvi, observed that the construction of the road was not as per the recommendations of the Recce Survey and Trace Cutting (RSTC). He said that much of the road would have to be realigned and reconstructed.
The CTE further estimated that half of the money allotted for the project was misappropriated. The total monetary allocation made for the DSDBO road was Rs. 320 crore, which means around Rs 160 crore was misappropriated from the project. The entire project was monitored by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). Dr. Manmohan Singh was the Prime Minister then. The original road was supposed to be completed by 2012 but the deadline was later extended to 2014. Ultimately, due to the need for realignment, it got pushed to 2017.
During the recent conflict, the BRO was looking forward to completing work on the DSDBO road, including eight bridges and its blacktopping. The use of the road had helped cut the travel time between Leh and DBO to six hours, which was significantly higher earlier. Thus, it appears that had the Congress government not engaged in the misappropriation of funds, India would have been much better prepared now than it is.
The approach of the UPA government with respect to China has always been dubious. For instance, they denied permission to the Indian Air Force to reactivate the DBO airstrip that serves a strategic objective for India in the region. In the end, former Air Marshall and the then Commander-in-Chief of the Western Air Command P K Barbora was forced to re-activate the airstrip without seeking prior permission from the Central Government.
The Congress party had also signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Chinese Communist Party in 2008. The deal was to ensure the exchange of information between the two entities and provided the two parties with the “opportunity to consult each other on important bilateral, regional and international developments”.
As fate would have it, the MoU was signed by Rahul Gandhi as the then Congress general secretary and Xi Jinping himself, who was then the Chinese vice-president and standing committee member of the CPC’s politburo. The MoU was signed in the presence of his mother and party president Sonia Gandhi. Since then, there have been numerous suspicious dealings between the two.