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India has lost access to 26 out of 65 Patrolling Points in eastern Ladakh, says research paper
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Indian Army’s play safe approach is creating buffer zones and restricting the movement of graziers along the China border, says paper submitted at annual police meet
India has lost access to 26 out of 65 Patrolling Points (PP) in eastern Ladakh, according to one of the research papers submitted at last week’s annual police meet in Delhi, accessed by The Hindu.

The “play safe” approach of the Indian Army that restricts the movement of the district administration and locals in forward areas has turned areas that were once accessible into informal “buffer” zones, the paper said. It added that to avoid consternation with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) that has placed high-resolution cameras at vantage points, the Army restricts the movement of graziers by installing check-posts and deploying personnel in disguise. The recent disengagement agreements at PP 15 and 16 resulted in the loss of pasture lands at Gogra hills, North Bank of Pangong Tso, and Kakjung areas.

The paper did not come up for discussion at the annual Director General of Police (DGP) Conference organised by the Intelligence Bureau (IB) that was held from January 20-22 and attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah. It was among 15 research papers submitted by police officers across the country on the subject ‘Security Issues Pertaining to Unfenced Land Border’.

The Hindu had reported on December 22, 2022 that there are at least 30 PPs in eastern Ladakh along Line of Actual Control (LAC) are not being patrolled any more by Indian troops.

These points were regularly patrolled before April-May 2020, when China started amassing troops close to the LAC in eastern Ladakh. Twenty Indian soldiers were killed in violent clashes with the PLA on June 15, 2020; at least four Chinese soldiers were also killed. 

The paper stated: “Presently, there are 65 PPs starting from Karakoram pass to Chumur which are to be patrolled regularly by the ISFs (Indian Security Forces). Out of 65 PPs, our presence is lost in 26 PPs (i.e. PP no. 5-17, 24-32, 37, 51,52,62) due to restrictive or no patrolling by the ISFs. Later on, China, forces us to accept the fact that, as, such areas have not seen the presence of ISFs or civilians since long, the Chinese were present in these areas. This leads to a shift in the border under control of ISFs towards Indian side and a buffer zone is created in all such pockets which ultimately leads to loss of control over these areas by India. This tactic of PLA to grab land inch-by-inch is known as Salami Slicing.”

A defence source told The Hindu that the LAC in eastern Ladakh is dominated by physical patrolling or technical means and “there is no loss of territory due to disengagement in friction areas”.

“Some areas have been restricted for patrolling for both sides pending diplomatic resolution of disputes. No pasture lands have been lost. In disengaged areas, we have as many cameras and technical means as the PLA and hence dominate the area as much, if not more,” the source said. The source added that graziers are encouraged and all facilities are being provided in conjunction with the civil administration.

The paper added that the Army has placed significant restrictions on the movement of civilians and graziers near the forward areas on the Indian side, indicating with their play safe strategy that they do not want to annoy the PLA by giving them the chance to raise objections on the areas being claimed as disputed. The paper said: “Till September 2021, senior officers of district administration and security forces would easily patrol till Karakoram Pass (35 km from Daulat Beg Oldie) in the DBO sector, however, restrictions in the form of check posts were placed by the Indian Army since December 2021 at DBO itself to stop any such movement towards Karakoram Pass as PLA had installed cameras and they would immediately raise objections on the movement from Indian side if not informed beforehand.”

It added that the unfenced borders have been serving as pastures for the nomadic community of Changthang region (Rebos) and given the scarcity of the rich pastures, they would traditionally venture into the areas close to the PPs. The paper said: “Since 2014, enhanced restrictions on the grazing movement and areas have been imposed on the Rebos by ISFs and this has caused some resentment against them. The soldiers are especially deployed in disguise to stop the movement of Rebos to the higher reaches that could be objected by the PLA and similarly the development works in the border villages like Demchok, Koyul which are under direct electronic surveillance of the PLA suffers, as they raise objections promptly.”

Over the years, this has resulted in the loss of livelihood and change in lifestyle patterns of border villages, which has led to migration.

The defence source added that PPs are benchmark locations mutually agreed by both India and China. “Among the 65 PPs, some remain in contention and all efforts to resolve them are taken by concerned stakeholders [and] is underway….Recently, the PP 15 issue was mutually resolved. It must be understood that while PPs are sacrosanct, the perception of the LAC isn’t. They are in vogue since 1996, based on the China Study Group guidelines. These points were identified based possibly on accessibility, liveability and so on, and have been so from their inception. They have been patrolled earlier by Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and over the last few years by the Army. The delineation of the LAC is as such the role of Ministry of External Affairs and the Army has no role to play in this regard,” the source said.