M A I N   N E W S

Lifeline of Ladakh reopens today
Ajay Banerjee writes from Leh

The Indian Army now faces an uphill task in Leh as far as stocking up on rations for the winter goes. Fuel, kerosene oil, heavy clothing, fuel wood, material for pre-fabricated structures- all that is needed for its troops in this remote Himalayan region-will have to be stocked in the region devastated by flash floods and mudslides. The Army’s own winter stock in Leh is only 50 per cent of the set targets, according to sources. Everything will depend upon the lifeline of Ladakh: The 475-km long Srinagar-Leh road will reopen on Saturday, facilitationg movement of supplies. The road is not only crucial for sending supplies of wheat, rice, sugar, clothes, bed-rolls, cement and steel for the battered civilian population of Ladakh, but is also vital from the security perspective.

Winter stocks have to be replenished if the forces are to sustain troops. The road meets the needs of troops and the Army along the Line of Control with Pakistan on the Kargil-Drass-Batalik sector.

Road links to Ladakh get cut off around the first week of November following snowfall. Some of the seven bridges on the Srinagar-Leh route that had got washed away in the August 6 flash floods have been rebuilt. Sources said the Army will opt for this route to pile up its winter stores rather that rely on the 477-km-long Manali-Leh highway that may take longer to open and will also close earlier due to snowfall.

The biggest existing bottle-neck on the Srinagar-Leh route is the broken bridge between Khalsi and Nurla. A span of some 130 metres is needed and special work is required. The bridges are the iron bailey bridges used by the Army. According to a senior officer, the teams of the Border Roads Organisation and Corps of Engineers have enough experience of assembling the equipment at rapid speed.

The General Officer Commanding of the Leh-based 14 Corps while talking to the Tribune said, “Winter stocks will get top priority… we will meet the targets”.

The IAF today started special operations to lift the first lot of the 190-tonne of the bridging equipment from Pathankot using its IL-76 choppers for transportation. Since an estimated 800-tonne bridging equipment is needed for the road, the Army has deputed a team of officers to coordinate the movement. Civilian relief trucks will also use the same road, sources in the civilian administration said. The road could get crowded and it will need some coordination for movement of so many trucks of the Army as well as the civilian side as well.

The Manali-Leh highway has suffered greater damage in the floods and has been ruled out for stocking up for winters. Some 20 km of road has been washed away on the Upshi-Rumptse stretch. For the time being, an alternative route that is 70 km longer is under study and could be used for a short period before the original axis of the road is restored.

The highway has three high passes — Rohtang, Baralacha and Tanglang-La that would be far more difficult to negotiate than the lone high pass, the Zojila, on the Srinagar-Leh route.





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