Three years after the intense clash between Indian and Chinese military forces in Galwan, followed by the standoff near the Pangong Tso, a lake that stretches across eastern Ladakh and western Tibet, there is a flurry of activity in the region from both sides. While China is racing to complete a bridge connecting the north and south banks of the Pangong Tso, India is also constructing a well-paved road on the northern bank.
These developments are part of a series of infrastructure projects initiated by both countries since the standoff, resulting in a permanent alteration of the ground situation in eastern Ladakh. Despite these changes, the two sides are still awaiting the 19th round of Corps Commander-level talks to seek a resolution to their dispute in the region.
“Construction of a well-paved road towards Finger 4 on our side is currently underway and is expected to be finished by 2025. There is a significant focus on infrastructure, including road networks and advanced landing grounds,” revealed an anonymous official source. Another official source confirmed these details. Furthermore, construction work on an alternate axis to the crucial Darbuk-Skyok-Daulat Beg Oldie road via the Saser La pass is progressing at an advanced stage.
Chinese construction activities are also notable. The source reported that work is presently ongoing on the main bridge, while the second bridge has already been completed. Recent observations on the north bank have revealed extensive construction activity and the presence of construction materials. Additionally, road connectivity work along the south bank towards Shandong village is progressing, according to intelligence inputs cited by another official source. An air defence site belonging to China is situated east of the Khurnak Fort.
Moreover, a 22 km-long tunnel is currently under construction along the G-0177 expressway at Yuli, connecting to the strategically important G-216 highway in Tibet.
The Pangong Tso region remains a point of contention. India holds control over one-third of the 135 km-long boomerang-shaped lake. The mountainous extensions of the Chang Chenmo range, which jut into the glacial lake, are referred to as “fingers.” India has traditionally maintained control up to Finger 4, but its claims extend up to Finger 8, which aligns with India’s perception of the Line of Actual Control (LAC), as reiterated on multiple occasions. The north bank, which exhibits greater differences in the perception of the LAC compared to the south bank, was the initial site of clashes in early May 2020, with tensions escalating in the Kailash ranges in July and August 2020. The Indian Army maintains a permanent position near Finger 3, while the Chinese have a base to the east of Finger 8.
With over a hundred thousand troops deployed on each side of the lake since 2020, the Corps Commander-level talks have encountered difficulties at two remaining friction points: Depsang and Demchok. According to the source, the Chinese side has been obstructing Indian patrols at both locations. However, there have been some concessions from the Chinese side during the talks.
In the Demchok region, China has set up tents on the Indian side of the Charding Nala, as previously reported by The Hindu, despite differing claims in the Charding La area.
A significant portion of the budget allocated to the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) has witnessed a sharp increase in recent years. In the 2023-24 fiscal year, the BRO’s capital budget amounted to ₹5,000 crore, marking a 43% rise from the ₹3,500 crore allocated in 2022-23. A considerable portion of these funds has been directed towards the India-China Border Roads (ICBR) plan.
The first official source highlighted substantial progress made under the second phase of the ICBR plan, which received approval in September 2020, several months after the Galwan clash. The second phase has a budget of ₹12,434.90 crore allocated for the construction of 32 roads. The first phase of the plan, initiated in 2005, involved constructing 25 roads spanning 751.58 km at an estimated cost of ₹3,482.52 crore. Together, the first and second phases of the ICBR plan aim to construct over 1,400 km of strategic roads along the 3,488 km-long LAC. A third phase focusing primarily on Arunachal Pradesh is also in progress.
The BRO is nearing the completion of key infrastructure projects in the eastern sector, such as the Sela, Nechipu, and Sela-Chhabrela tunnels, which will enhance all-weather connectivity along the LAC. The Defense Secretary mentioned in a report presented to the Parliamentary standing committee in March that there has been a consistent emphasis on improving border infrastructure for the past three years, leading to ongoing budget allocations.