Leh: The Indian Army had given a befitting reply to Pakistan on attempts to infiltrate and such actions would continue if the neighbouring country did not stop infiltration, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said on Monday.
He said this during a function held here for the inauguration of the 1,400-foot-long Col Chewang Rinchen bridge over the Shyok river in eastern Ladakh, the highest permanent bridge in the country.
In his address, Singh also asserted that after the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A of the Constitution, the Ladakh region would only “draw friends” now and “leave no scope for enemies”.
“However, our neighbour Pakistan…. Our armed forces have never been on the offensive on the Pakistani side. We have never done the first firing.
“But attempts have been made from the other side to destabilise, weaken and compromise the integrity of India,” he said.
The Indian armed forces had given a “befitting reply” to them, he added.
The assertion by Singh came a day after Army chief Gen. Bipin Rawat said six to 10 Pakistan Army personnel were killed and three terror camps destroyed in a retaliatory action by the Indian Army across the Line of Control (LoC) opposite the Tangdhar and Keran sectors in Jammu and Kashmir.
Sources said the top brass of the Army briefed Singh on Sunday’s operation during his visit to Ladakh on Monday.
“If they (Pakistan) do not stop infiltration, our armed forces will keep giving befitting replies until they stop such activities,” Singh said.
The bridge built by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) between Durbuk and Daulat Beg Oldie, roughly 45 km from the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China, would reduce the travel time by about half, officials said.
Gen. Rawat, Northern Command chief Lt Gen. Ranbir Singh, Ladakh MP Jamyang Tsering Namgyal, Chief Executive Councillor (CEC) of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) Gyal P Wangyal and other senior officers were present on the occasion.
In his address, Singh also referred to the India-China ties and said the countries shared “cordial relations”.
“There are perceptional differences between the two countries on the boundary issue, but it has been handled responsibly and with great maturity by both sides,” he said.
The defence minister pointed out that the event was taking place barely 10 days before Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir would officially assume the UT status.
“The move to make Ladakh a separate Union Territory by the government has fulfilled the long-pending demand of the people here, which will open new doors of development in the region,” he said.
On the abrogation of the special provisions of Articles 370 and 35A, Singh said it would put an end to terrorism and separatism, which, since independence, had led to the killing of thousands of innocent people.
He said the decision would also “strengthen human rights and help in women empowerment in the region”.
Jammu and Kashmir was bifurcated following the abrogation of the provisions that gave a special status to the state. Both Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir will both officially assume the UT status on October 31.
In his address, Singh also shared that ” the government has decided to open a route from the Siachen Base Camp to the Kumar Post for tourists”.
He said with the UT status, the Ladakh region was set to grow and prosper, adding, “I am confident that the region will not only become a national tourist destination, but an international tourist destination.”
In his speech, Namgyal urged the government to open the area near the bridge to tourists.
The Col Chewang Rinchen bridge, inaugurated by Singh on Monday, is India’s highest all-weather permanent bridge.
After opening the bridge, Singh reiterated the government’s commitment to strengthening the border infrastructure to effectively deal with any threats the country might face.
The bridge, situated in Sub-Sector North at a height of 14,650 ft and christened after the “Lion of Ladakh”, Col Chewang Rinchen, was dedicated to the nation in his memory at a ceremony held next to it, which was also attended by daughter Phunsog Angmo and granddaughter Rinchen of the highly-decorated late Army officer, who was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra (MVC) twice.
The bridge is strategically located on the 255-km Darbuk-Shayok-Daulat Beg Oldie (DSDBO) section of the road between Leh and the Karakoram pass.
The bridge’s superstructure is called “Extra Wide Bailey Bridge” and it has 10 spans of 140 feet each. Its width is 4.25 metre, senior officials of the BRO, which built it in 15 months, said.
Singh, Gen. Rawat and a group of officials also took a ride across the bridge, before heading back to the Thoise airfield, from where they flew to Delhi.
“Delighted to dedicate to the nation the newly-constructed ‘Colonel Chewang Rinchen Bridge’ at Shyok River in Ladakh. This bridge has been completed in record time. It will not only provide all weather connectivity in the region but also be a strategic asset in the border areas,” the defence minister said in a tweet.
He said the bridge would also facilitate quicker movement of the armed forces in the region.
Director General of the BRO Lieutenant General Harpal Singh said, “It is the country’s highest permanent bridge. Also, for the first time in India, the micropiling technique has been used.”
The work on the bridge had started in June, 2017, he added.