New Delhi: Even as ties with Pakistan remain tense, Indian and Chinese troops have been in a stand-off since Wednesday in Ladakh’s Demchok area — a region bordering Tibet and site of previous Chinese incursions — over construction of an irrigation canal.
China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops are understood to have entered an area near the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and stopped the construction work. Government sources say the local administration is constructing an irrigation canal under the rural employment guarantee scheme to link a village with a ‘hot spring’ in Demchok, 250km east of Leh.
A senior Army officer, however, said there was “no Chinese incursion across LAC. The issues relating to construction projects on both sides of LAC are being resolved in border personnel meetings and flag meetings”.
The fresh tensions in Demchok also come in the wake of the Indian government’s decision to allow the Dalai Lama to travel to Tawang+ in Arunachal Pradesh despite China’s strong reservations about the Buddhist leader. Tawang is also the site of a monastery that is of special significance to Tibetan Buddhists while China claims all of Arunachal as “South Tibet”.
Officials said around 55 Chinese troops arrived at the scene and called a halt to the work in an aggressive manner, prompting the Indian Army and the nearby Indo-Tibetan Border Police+ (ITBP) personnel to rush to the spot and respond to the high-handedness of Chinese troops. Demchok is at an altitude of around 11,500 feet and marks the entry of Indus into India from Tibet.
The Chinese troops took positions on the perceived LAC and demanded that work be stopped as both sides need to seek permission before undertaking any such activity. This claim was disputed by the Indian side which says that the terms of the agreement between the two countries state that information about construction needs to be shared only if meant for defence purposes.
Both sides pulled out banners and have been stationed on the ground, sources said, adding the Army and ITBP were not allowing the Chinese to move ahead despite PLA claiming the area belongs to China.
The area had witnessed a similar incident in 2014 over a small irrigation canal at Nilung Nalla under the MNREGA scheme that had been a sore point with the Chinese. There was a prolonged incursion by a Chinese platoon in April, 2013 as well that led to India and China agreeing on a protocol to improve communications between border troops. The PLA had mobilized villagers from Tashigong to pitch tents at Charding-Ninglung Nallah track junction to protest Indian action.
This time, the sources said, there were 55 personnel from the PLA whereas nearly 70 personnel from ITBP and army had fortified the area and prevented their march deeper into Indian territory, sources said. The ‘Hot Spring’ is different from the one in Chashool where Police day is observed in memory of 10 CRPF men killed in 1959 by Chinese troops.