New Delhi: Indian Army engineers on Thursday completed a crucial 60-metre-long bridge over the Galwan river in eastern Ladakh -- at the heart of the conflict between India and China in the region -- despite hostile moves by the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) to stall the project, people familiar with the matter said.
The Bailey bridge (a prefabricated bridge developed by the British during World War 2) will help consolidate India’s hold of the sensitive sector by allowing infantry to move across the cold mountain river and also protect the 255km road from Darbuk to Daulat Beg Oldie, the last military post just south of the Karakoram Pass, the officials cited above added on condition of anonymity.
The construction of the strategic bridge, which replaces a footbridge on the Galwan River, was a key trigger for the aggressive maneuvers by PLA in eastern Ladakh over several weeks, before the Chinese army’s Western Theatre Command this month made an exaggerated claim to the entire Galwan Valley.
“We did not stop work on this bridge through the stand-off and kept working despite the violent face-off on June 15,” a senior army officer said.
A senior government official confirmed, on condition of anonymity, that the bridge was completed on Thursday even as tensions raged after the June 15 clash in which 20 Indian soldiers and some Chinese troops were killed. China watchers described this as a signal from India that the border infrastructure upgrade projects being executed by formation engineers and the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) will continue despite PLA’s attempts to stall them.
The four-span bridge is located 3km east of the confluence of the Shyok and Galwan rivers, with the contested Patrol Point 14 a further 2km east of the new bridge. Patrol Point 14, which was the site of the June 15 clash, is close to the Y-junction where the Galwan rivulet joins the main river. An Indian army base camp, “120 km camp” is located at the confluence of the two rivers and next to the Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie (DSDBO) road.
Experts said the Chinese claim to the entire Galwan valley was an attempt to reduce the Indian claim line to the Shyok river; to allow PLA to overrun the DSDBO road in times of hostility and cut off Daulat Beg Oldie, and so that it can open another road to Pakistan via Murgo, the last Indian village before Daulat Beg Oldie.
Indian security officials told HT last month that Chinese action in the area was to “dominate the region” and “deter India” from completing the DSDBO road, which, once fully metalled, would give India a major advantage in terms of access and military mobilisation. A key part of this was the construction of the new bridge.
The bridge, built on concrete pillars, gives India a major advantage in terms of access and military mobilisation and is vital to the protection of Indian strategic interests.