25 Aug 2020
Under Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana, 96 roads of length 699 km & 2 bridges have been completed till July 2020 in Ladakh as per Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India.
India is building border roads faster than it was until a few years ago.
India’s improving infrastructure could be one of the reasons behind China’s aggressive posture along the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh.
Critical for connectivity in north-eastern Ladakh — termed Sub-Sector North by the Army, the 255-kilometre Darbuk-Shayok-Daulat Beg Oldie(DS-DBO) road provides all-weather access to far-flung areas abutting the 38,000 square km territory of Aksai Chin under Chinese occupation, such as the Depsang Plains.
Amid the current border tension with China in Ladakh, road infrastructure projects have got a push and the 297-km long Nimmu-Padum-Darcha road that was identified as the third route to Ladakh in 2001-02 is being considered most critical in wake of the dual threat from Pakistan and China. Leh is about 35 km east of Nimo.
The NPD road not only provides a third axis to access the Ladakh sector, but it also offers multiple other advantages.
It will provide a shorter route from Srinagar to Leh in case of any threat to vehicular movement from Srinagar towards Leh. Earlier, troop movement would have been from Manali to Leh, and then towards Kargil. This is almost a 700-km-long journey. But this road will reduce the distance between Manali and Kargil to 522 km.
Similarly, troops and supplies will be facilitated from Manali towards Leh through the relatively shorter NPD road. The Manali-Leh route is 473 km, while the Manali-Darcha-Padum-Leh road is 444 km.
The biggest benefit of the NPD road could very well be in terms of providing all-weather connectivity between Ladakh and the rest of the country.
As of July 2019, the project cost was revised to Rs 2,276.13 crore and of the 297 km, connectivity of 256.72 km had been achieved. The project is expected to complete by 2025. This includes black-topping of the road and double-lane as per national highway standards.
The road starts at Nimo, which is about 35 km before Leh on the Leh-Srinagar road. The confluence of Zanskar and Indus rivers is located close to Nimo. From Nimo, the proposed road follows the course of Zanskar river to enter Zanskar Valley till Padum.
While the NPD road was approved in 2002, the work on the 39.6-km Darcha-Shinku La/Shingo La Road started sometime in 2007-2008. However, the pace of construction was slow and the formation cutting till Shinku La/Shingo La pass was most likely achieved only in 2015-16 and the road was constructed by 2019. First 4×4 light vehicles were permitted to reach up to the pass from Darcha in 2015.
The need for a tunnel under Shinku La/Shingo La pass was identified way back in 2006-2007 and tenders for technical feasibility were also floated and L1 bidder was also identified by 2009. However, it seems no further work was done, and feasibility of a tunnel is being still under evaluation. The tunnel is expected to be 4-km long.
Shinku La/Shingo La – Padum Road
The stretch between Shinku La/Shingo La pass and Padum was completed in 2019 with first civilian 4×4 light vehicle traversing the Darcha-Shinku La/Shingo La-Padum axis in late 2019. Before this, a two-wheeler adventure rally had also been conducted where 10 motorcyles had travelled along this road from Himachal Pradesh.
Road widening is in progress and the next step is to black-top the road. However, available documents show that the road is not yet in shape to take heavy vehicular traffic and it still requires some work before proper connectivity can be achieved between Padum and Darcha.
While connectivity with Nerak village was achieved by 2017, the 10-km stretch of the road ahead of Nerak village seems to have been completed recently. This has now provided connectivity between Langru on Srinagar-Leh highway to Darcha in Himachal Pradesh.
So, the current operational alignment is Langru – Padum – Darcha.
The BRO now intends to start working on the incomplete stretch between Nerak – Chilling on the Nimo-Nerak alignment from Nerak village as well to ensure faster completion of the road.
The NPD road is expected to be completed in all aspects, including National Highway Double Lane (NHDL) for a certain portion of the road, by 2025.
While the NPD road is being looked at from its strategic significance, the socio-economic impact of the new alignment which has already become operational will be of great significance.
People of Zanskar Valley will now have direct connectivity with Leh towards north and Kullu-Manali towards the south-east. The distance between Padum and Leh will be about 200 km while the distance through Padum – Kargil – Leh road is 450 km. The distance will be lessened by more than half.
Similarly, people from Zanskar, who have a cultural and religious affinity with Lahaul and Spiti districts of Himachal Pradesh, will be able to directly access these areas. The 900-km one-way road journey from Padum to Manali or a trek of 7-8 days (Padum to Darcha) has been reduced to a day’s travel.
People can now avail better medical and education facilities and will have access to bigger commercial markets. Not to forget that with easier connectivity from Himachal Pradesh, tourism will increase in Zanskar Valley, leading to employment opportunities and economic development.
Atal Tunnel to be inaugurated next month
The ‘Atal Tunnel’ on the Rohtang pass, which will be critical for connectivity to Ladakh and interiors of Himachal Pradesh in winters, is expected to be inaugurated next month.
Work on other roads, bridges, and tunnels to improve connectivity to Ladakh’s interiors, linking it to the border areas, has also been expedited to ensure targets are met before winter sets in. Amid the border tussle with China, efforts are on to ensure maximum road projects are completed.
For connectivity to the remote areas, 142 roads of the length of 1,207 km were sanctioned in Ladakh, of which 96 roads of 699 km were completed till July 2020. Apart from roads, 30 bridges are also under construction to improve connectivity to forward areas close to the Line of Actual Control.
During the Kargil conflict in 1999, one of the major aims of Pakistan was to cut off the Srinagar-Leh highway with the objective of degrading Indian capability to maintain troops in Leh and Siachen sectors. Considering this it is clear that these road constructions have both a community oriented-developmental and a security-oriented- strategic impact.