Chinese moves to test Indian control of the strategic Finger Area in North Sikkim last year have prompted the Army to deploy heavy tanks and armoured personnel carriers in the region and strengthen defensive positions.
In fact,the highest gallantry award to a Border Roads Organisation (BRO) personnel was conferred to a dozer operator,Zalim Singh,who cleared a strategic road near Theing village he was decorated with a Bar to Shaurya Chakra for a column of advancing tanks.
While the Army brought armoured vehicles to the North Sikkim plateau in the late 1980s,the small detachment has now been replaced by the heavier and more powerful T-72 Main Battle Tanks and modern BMP troop carriers.
Sources said the mobilisation took place after repeated Chinese transgressions last year in the Finger Area,a one kilometre stretch of land in the northern tip of Sikkim that overlooks a valley called the Sora Funnel and is considered a strong defensive position.
The T-72 tanks were inducted after a monumental effort by the BRO to widen roads,construct tracks and strengthen bridges leading to North Sikkim. The heavy tank column was taken up the high plateau partly by road-based carriers.
Sources said that while China too has tanks on its side of the border,they are deployed well inside its territory. China does not need to deploy tanks on the border because the terrain and roads on its side makes it easy to bring them at short notice. India,on the other hand,has no option but to keep them on the border as it would take days to get the tanks up from the plains, an expert pointed out.
Besides the tanks,the Army has strengthened other defences in the region,particularly around the Finger Area. Permanent posts have been set up on heights and bunkers have been strengthened. The Army has also increased surveillance capabilities in the region. At least two Long Range Observation Systems which can detect,record and transmit live images of an area under observation,have been set up in the Finger Area.
The strengthening of defences has taken place partly due to the re-induction of the 27 Mountain Division to North Sikkim. The Kalimpong-based Division,responsible for the defence of North Sikkim and the Finger Area,had been moved to Jammu and Kashmir in 2001 during the Op Parakram troop buildup along the Pakistan border.
The Finger Area entered controversy last year after the Chinese increased patrolling and even planned to built a road through it. While the area was always under Indian control,the Army used to send in regular patrols and held only a few traditional defensive positions.
India decided to strengthen defences after increased Chinese transgressions and the discovery last year that the alignment of a new East-West road being built by Beijing would pass thorough the Finger Area. Construction was put to a stop after New Delhi lodged a diplomatic complaint.