New Kailash-Mansarovar road: Nepal may have raised issue at someone else’s behest, says Army Chief

There is no ‘contradiction at all’ in the new road constructed via Lipulekh pass up to the Line of Actual Control to shorten travel time for Indian pilgrims, he says

Updated - May 16, 2020 12:01 am IST

Published - May 15, 2020 01:55 pm IST - New Delhi

Gen. Manoj Naravane

Gen. Manoj Naravane

There was no “contradiction at all” in the road constructed via Lipulekh pass up to the Line of Actual Control (LAC) to shorten the travel time for the Kailash-Mansarovar pilgrimage, and Nepal may have raised the issue “at the behest of someone else,” Chief of the Army Staff Gen. Manoj Naravane said on Friday.

Also read:Nepal to publish new political map

Nepal has strongly protested the new road and urged India to “refrain from carrying out any activity inside the territory of Nepal.”

In response to a query at a webinar organised by a Defence Ministry think tank, Gen. Naravane said: “In fact, the Nepalese Ambassador has mentioned that the area east of the Kali river belongs to them. There is no dispute in that whatsoever. The road which we made is in fact to the west of the river. So, I don’t know what they are agitating about”.

Gen. Naravane asserted that there had never been any problem on this score in the past. “There is reason to believe that they might raised the issue at the behest of someone else and that is very much a possibility,” he said. “There are little issues as we go ahead as to exactly where the tri-junction [India-China-Nepal] should be.”

The Army Chief stressed that these incidents and the face-offs that occurred at two-three places in eastern Ladakh and north Sikkim were not related either at the domestic or international level.

Face-offs issue

There were a lot of dynamics why a face-off occurred and they were dealing with the issue on a case to case basis. “We are not seeing any concerted design into these face-offs,” he noted.

The new 80-km road built by the Border Roads Organisation from Ghatiabgarh in Uttarakhand to Lipulekh just five km short of the LAC was formally inaugurated by the Defence Minister last week. It significantly reduces the travel time and makes travel easier for the pilgrims going to Kailash-Mansarovar. It was made under the directions of the China Study Group and is funded under Indo-China Border Roads.

Budgetary constraints

Gen. Naravane admitted that there would be some budgetary cuts for the armed forces in the post- COVID-19 situation. They “will not be at the cost of operations efficiency and preparedness”. A few areas had been identified and they could be deferred or re-prioritised for next year. One area was the number of movements by units and the other was the major exercises held in Rajasthan, for which units were moved from far-off places.

“Normally there are 250-300 moves a year. And each move costs...₹1 crore,” he said. High-altitude and counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism units had to move but some peace-time movements could be avoided, he said. “We have identified 100 such moves that can be deferred.”

For major exercises, troops and formations moved to Rajasthan could also be avoided for a year without affecting the operational performance.

Talking about the ‘guns versus butter’ debate, Gen. Naravane said it should be kept in kind that “any investment in safety and security is an investment in growth”. He cited the Balakot air strikes as an example: the stock markets fell after the Pulwama terror strike and they saw a sharp increase soon after Balakot.

The defence budget, too, contributed to growth; at the Bhatinda Cantonment alone, forces contributed ₹1,000 crore to the local economy, he said.

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