Parliamentary Panel Concerned Over Doklam Infrastructure
NEW DELHI: The Parliamentary Committee on External Affairs has expressed its concern that Chinese infrastructure built uncomfortably close to the tri-junction at Doklam has not yet been dismantled.
In its 22nd report on “Sino-India Relations, including Doklam, Border Situation and Cooperation’’ presented to the Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan on September 4, the 30-member Committee termed the uncalled for Chinese intrusion at Doklam during 2017 summer as a “blatant but unsuccessful attempt to unilaterally change the status-quo.’’
It noted that the Chinese attempt was to change the status quo “by shifting the India, Bhutan, China tri-junction from Batang La to Gyomochen, thereby seriously affecting India’s security interests by enhancing China’s ability to dominate the vulnerable Siliguri corridor.’’
The Parliamentary Committee, headed by senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, a former Minister of State for External Affairs, observed that Chinese actions were in clear violation of the 1988 and 1998 agreements between Bhutan and China which stipulated no change in the status quo while boundary negotiations were still in progress.
“Doklam was not a sovereignty issue for India, as the disputed territory was Bhutanese, but nevertheless it was a major security challenge for us,’’ the Committee noted in its report.
The panel put on record their highest appreciation for the brave and timely action of Indian security forces which checked the PLA troops from continuing with their road construction activity in South Doklam. The Committee also appreciated the skilful diplomatic efforts of the External Affairs Ministry due to which the stand-off was defused without bloodshed.
Noting that during the entire period of the face-off situation at Doklam, India maintained close consultations and coordination with Bhutan at various levels and between various agencies, the Committee said it attests to the enduring and time tested relations between India and Bhutan.
From the specific deliberations held about road construction activities in Doklam area, the Committee concluded that it was not the first time that PLA troops entered the Doklam area.
“As the Doklam area is a disputed territory between Bhutan and China, PLA has been crossing the Batang La- Meruga La- Sinchela Ridge Line over the years and making ingress into the Bhutanese territory. But this time, the PLA came with the objective of changing the status quo because they came in substantial numbers and brought along construction equipment with them,’’ it said in the report.
The Committee was informed that Chinese had built the track across the Batang La- Meruga La- Sinchela 22 Ridge Line over the last 25 years. It was because of this track that they were able to reach the face-off site. It is clear to the Committee that the PLA took advantage of the absence of the Bhutanese troops at Batangla- Meruga La- Sinchela Ridge Line which is Bhutan’s sovereign territory.
The Committee recommended that India should constantly engage with Bhutan on the subject of North Doklam so as to dissuade the PLA from making direct ingress into Southern Doklam in future and trying to shift the tri-junction point southwards.
When asked by the Committee during the course of the briefing to point out some takeaways from the Doklam incident, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale stated on February 22, 2018: “This was perhaps the most serious border tension in a long time and by far the longest face-off that we have had with China, with very sharp political rhetoric by the Chinese side. However, both sides were able to resolve matters through dialogue.’’
On being asked to provide the views of the Ministry of Defence on Doklam, the Defence Secretary Sanjay Mitra during the course of evidence on the same day said that he agreed with the Foreign Secretary’s views that the Doklam incident was an attempt to change the status quo.
“We made it clear that the road would not be constructed and further progress towards Torsa Nala and Zompelri Ridge was not to be permitted. There was a standoff after 72-day faceoff. The planned road could not be constructed and both forces were disengaged at the faceoff site. This is essentially due to very mature and considered view by the Defence Forces as well as from the diplomatic engagement. Other than that, at this point, the status quo continued, forces were disengaged and we have consolidated our presence on our own side of the border to counter any contingency. We are continuously monitoring the Chinese activities in the area and we are well prepared to respond to any contingency,’’ the Defence Secretary told the Committee.
On the basis of India’s diplomatic communication with China, the issue was eventually resolved with the disengagement of border personnel at the face-off site at Doklam on August 28, 2017, the report said.