Herculean task ahead for Army

Quake aftermath: Heavy snowfall, road block to leave soldiers on the border high and dry

A villager and a child being evacuated by helicopter from Chungthang in Mangan. AgenciesNot only they have to brave sub-zero temperature and icy winds, but they may have to walk for two to three days at a stretch to reach their destination on the border.

For ration and logistics supply, soldiers will probably have to literally look at the sky as helicopters could very well be the only supply line for border outposts. Even though the Army is yet to make a complete damage assessment in Sikkim, officers familiar with the territory said it would be an Herculean task to clear the road blocks before December and civil works have to stop for a few months once the snow fall begins.

But since “infantry never stops”, the soldiers will march for two-three days to reach the border outposts.

Decades ago, trekking was the only option for soldiers in the harsh terrain of north and east Sikkim, but vehicle can go to most of the places on the border nowadays.

No proper roads

That was all before the 6.8 earthquake on Sunday. The big jolt wiped out road connectivity in north, east and west Sikkim. The road link to the strategic border post at Nathu La from Gangtok is yet to be established.

Engineers from the Army and Border Roads Organisation (BRO) are working round the clock at 11 points to clear the debris. BRO in fact lost one of its officers in the relief operations.

The number of heavy engineering equipment and dozers engaged in the clearing work under the overall supervision of Siliguri-based 33 Corps may prove to be inadequate. Since dozers guzzle diesel, steady fuel supply remains one of the key areas of concern.

In places where bridges have been damaged, temporary arrangements will be made to facilitate movement of armoured vehicles. More plant equipment from Tezpur-based 4 Corps or central command may be brought in though no official decision has been taken. In the same line, the rescue and road-clearing work might be broadened in its scope to involve the central command or even the Army headquarters.

Parts of Indo-China border in Sikkim are contentious where Chinese Army had reportedly made transgressions in the past.

Indian Army, however, occupies the dominating position on the 36x23 km rim of what is otherwise known as a “plateau”. Because of the vantage position, Indian Army can see well head in the Chinese territory.

Since most of the Army structures on the border are made out of fibre glass and corrugated sheets, there may not much structural damage to border infrastructure. But the conditions of soldiers and BRO personnel stuck in northern Sikkim remains unknown.

Damage cost is Rs 1 lakh crore

The loss from Sunday’s earthquake in Sikkim is estimated to be around Rs 1 lakh crore, Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling said. “I think loss and damage will be not less than Rs 1 lakh crore. We will assess thoroughly the loss of properties,” Chamling said at a press conference in Gangtok. The chief minister announced compensation of Rs 5 lakh to the kin of each of the dead and Rs 50,000 to seriously injured.

    Meanwhile, Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi visited Sikkim on Wednesday and met people injured in the quake in a Gangtok hospital. Rahul, who arrived around 10:30 am, took stock of rescue and relief efforts and met officials to get a first-hand account of the extent of damage.Accompanied by Sikkim Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling, he also made an aerial survey of North Sikkim.

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