Army personnel carrying out rescue operations on the Siachen glacier, Monday, managed to rescue one soldier, Lance Naik Hanamanthappa of Madras regiment six days after the accident. The Army has also recovered the mortal remains of the remaining nine, establishing the identity of five so far. On Tuesday, PM Modi visited Hanamanthappa at Army Hospital RR.
The miraculous survival of the jawan and the incident itself, has generated a debate on the tough conditions close to 3000- 4000 men belonging to three battalions served under at the highest battlefield in the world. Despite the loss of life and the revenue spent on maintaining a presence at the northernmost tip of the country, the withdrawal of troops is dismissed in view of political, military and strategic reasons.
Here are some of the difficulties with Siachen
The rough conditions
With the temperature at -45 degrees celsius, Siachen is the toughest place to survive even for the most well-equipped troops. As of August 2012, 846 military personnel have died at the Siachen glacier since 1984. The inhospitable terrain is all the more challenging because of storms and avalanches. The climatic conditions and sub-zero temperatures lead to illnesses such as memory loss, speech blurring, frost bites, lung infections. While storms on the glacier last for months, the availability of oxygen drops to a minuscule percentage of its availability at normal heights making acclimatisation extremely difficult.
Under the command of Leh headquartered 14 Corps, the nearest hospital is in Leh and emergency evacuations are possible only with choppers – their operations depend entirely on the weather conditions at 5,400 metres- the height of the glacier.
Withdrawal of troops not an option
The loss of lives and the revenue spent on occupying Siachen has often raised questions on the need to guard the frontiers along this inhospitable terrain. But the army as well as government have always been firm that there is no alternative to occupying Siachen. A withdrawal of troops is not contemplated. Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar on Sunday said that a withdrawal of troops from Siachen would be an incorrect move.
Deaths have taken place on the Pakistani side of the glacier too. Army officers who have served on the glacier argue that “India dominates the Siachen heights and is thus in a strategically advantageous position vis a vis Pakistan”. “We cannot let go the advantage till such time as an all-encompassing solution to the Kashmir dispute is sought,” an officer argues.