The tragic passing away of Lance Naik Hanamanthappa on Thursday morning brought the death toll in the Siachen avalanche to ten. The Indian soldiers, who were buried under mounds of snow, became the latest addition to a growing list of casualties suffered by the Army in Siachen.
As of December 11, 2015, weather-related casualties in Siachen stood at 869, including 33 officers and 54 junior commissioned officers, and Rs 7,504.99 crore was spent on military operations in the last four years alone. In comparison, the Pakistan army, which operates at much lower altitudes, lost 213 soldiers in Siachen between 2003-10. In 2012 alone, 130 Pakistani soldiers were killed in an avalanche.
* Expenditure calculated in crores ** data for 2015 upto 30th November
The Siachen glacier, where temperatures dip to as low as – 45 degree celsius, is the world’s highest and toughest battle field. Standing at 5,400 metres in height, its terrain is inhospitable for humans to stay over extended periods of time.
Minister of State for Defence Rao Inderjit Singh, in a written reply in Lok Sabha last year, said that the government has undertaken measures to ensure that soldiers serving in Siachen received the best available equipment. He said that the Defence Ministry has set up a Empowered Committee to fast-track orders for clothing and equipment required by the soldiers deployed in Siachen. Rao also revealed that the Indian Army procures 20 out of the 55 clothing and mountaineering equipment from abroad.
The recent deaths on the Indian sides has once again renewed calls for an unilateral ceasefire and deescalation of troops in Siachen. However, the strategic advantage of positioning troops on the highest levels of the Siachen glacier has forced successive administrations on both sides of the border to tread with caution.