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Increasing activities by China in depth areas of eastern sector: Eastern Army Commander

RUPA, ARUNACHAL PRADESH (PTI): China has increased the intensity of military exercises and deployment of troops in its depth areas opposite the Arunachal Pradesh sector and India has correspondingly readied contingency plans to deal with any eventualities, Eastern Army Commander Lt. Gen. Manoj Pande said on Tuesday.

The commander also asserted that the Indian preparedness to respond to any contingency is of a "very high order".

Lt. Gen. Pande said both sides are attempting to develop infrastructure closer to the Line of Actual Control(LAC) and that creates certain issues at times.

"Since the infrastructure has come up close to the LAC, there has been a marginal increase in border defence troops," he told a group of visiting journalists.

Lt. Gen. Pande said Chinese military exercises are joint operations among various arms of its defence forces that are carried out under an integrated approach and there was an increase in the intensity and duration of the drills.

He said new villages have come up on the Chinese side of the border in certain areas and India has taken note of it in its operational strategy as the habitats could be used for military purpose as well.

The commander overseeing the Indian Army's operational readiness along the over 1,300-km-long LAC in the eastern theatre also said its Mountain Strike Corps has now been fully operationalised and it has carried out validation and integrated training with other formations.

"All its units, the combat units, the combat support and the logistics units have been fully equipped."

Giving an account of India's overall military modernisation, Lt. Gen. Pande said that an in-principle approval has been given to new combat formations called the Integrated Battle Groups (IBGs) which can mobilise fast with a more effective approach.

The IBGs will comprise a mix of infantry, artillery, air defence, tanks and logistics units and the new set up is expected to revamp the Army's war fighting capabilities, particularly along the borders with China and Pakistan.

"We are looking at the IBG model for the Mountain Strike Corps essentially so that we have better option for its deployment," he said.

On Chinese activities in the eastern sector, he said there has been a marginal increase in its deployment of troops in some areas.

"The annual training exercise that the PLA (People's Liberation Army) carries out has seen some increase in the level of activities in the depth areas. Some of the reserve formations which the PLA mobilised continue to remain in their training areas that are in the operational depth areas," he added.

"The areas of exercise are in depth of LAC and these are their traditional training areas and the focus, as per inputs available to us, has been integrated joint operations between various arms of their defence forces."

The commander said India has taken a number of steps and the foremost among them is enhancing surveillance both close to the LAC and the depth areas by synergising all surveillance resources right from the strategic level to the tactical level.

"We have adequate forces that are available in each sector to deal with any contingency that may arise. We are practising and rehearsing various contingencies that may arise," he said.

Asked about the recent agreement between China and Bhutan to resolve their decades-old boundary dispute and whether it will impact India's strategic interests in the areas around Doklam tri-junction, the Army Commander did not give a direct reply but said authorities concerned in the government must have taken correct note of it and would be acting accordingly.

On China's violation of various border agreements and protocols that triggered the eastern Ladakh standoff, Lt. Gen. Pande indicated that the issue is being discussed at a higher level.

"In terms of our larger guidance, strategic guidance in terms of dealing with situation on the LAC is to respect the mutually agreed protocols and agreements, and that has been our effort, notwithstanding what has been the action or response from the other side," he said.

"Consequent to what happened and what we need to do in the future, is something I reckon is being looked into at the larger level."

The senior commander also said that a fourth hotline between the two sides in the sector has been activated recently.

Asked about Chinese activities in Doklam, where the armies of India and China were locked in a 73-day standoff in 2017, Lt. Gen. Pande said both sides are fully aware of the sensitivities of each other in the area.

"I would say in terms of increase in troops level, there has not been any major increase and the infrastructure remained what it was earlier," he said.

On Aspahila, another disputed area, he said some infrastructure development close to the Chinese side of the LAC in terms of setting up of habitats was observed and that led to deployment of more number of troops.

On the situation in Naku La in North Sikkim region, he said these are areas where patrolling teams come face-to-face and there are standard drills to resolve the issues.

"At times the face-offs last a little longer but they are resolved as per laid down norms," he said.

Lt. Gen. Pande further said that military equipment under emergency procurement are being procured for the eastern theatre just like the way such systems are inducted into the formations in eastern Ladakh.

"I would say equal number of equipment is also being inducted into the eastern theatre with a focus on mobility," he said, adding the Army is also looking at procuring counter drone technology both in kinetic and non-kinetic domain.

He said the focus has also been on setting up new logistics storage bases in forward areas as underground ones too enhance overall capabilities.

Asked about the Siliguri corridor that connects the Northeast region with rest of India, he said radicalisation and separatist tendencies are major areas of concern.

"Siliguri corridor is sensitive for us as there have been challenges of radicalisation and separatist tendencies. We are looking at a 'whole of the nation approach' to mitigate the threat in normal time and the hybrid threat as and when it manifests," he said.

"Recently a joint mechanism under the Army has been set up that has proved to be effective in coordinating actions of various agencies," he added.

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