September 4, 2014

Govt yet to notify Operation Falcon on China border after 28 years

The defence ministry continues to stonewall repeated attempts by the Army to get official sanctity and notification for its Operation Falcon, which was launched way back in 1986 along the border in Arunachal Pradesh to counter Chinese incursions in the region.

With Indian troops still forward deployed along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) 28 years later, the Army has been repeatedly pressing the government to promulgate Operation Falcon. It will give soldiers "operational cover" - much like Operation Meghdoot underway in Siachen Glacier-Saltoro Ridge since 1984 and other such operations - leading to better death and disability benefits for them.

But the MoD has been steadfast in its refusal to notify Operation Falcon, holding that the 4,057-km LAC is not "a live border" like in Siachen or the Line of Control with Pakistan. "Yes, the Army has been moving the case for Operation Falcon but it has not found favour with the MoD... it was not a declared operation," said an official.

The refusal is also reflective of India's over-cautious attitude towards China. This, in the past, even held India back from constructing roads in the western (Ladakh), middle (Uttarakhand, Himachal) and eastern (Sikkim, Arunachal) sectors till the People's Liberation Army's extensive infrastructure build-up all along the LAC finally jolted it into junking the defensive approach.

The government even now insists on labelling every incident of Chinese ground or air intrusion across the LAC as a mere "transgression". For the record, there have been around 1,640 such "transgressions" just since January 2010.

Discussing the "persisting anomaly" of Operational Falcon not being notified, the last Army Commanders' conference in April had decided to provide MoD with additional inputs to resolve the long-pending matter.

"But to no avail. There is no MoD sanction for higher emoluments and financial benefits for Operation Falcon. If a soldier dies in Siachen due to an avalanche, he is labelled a 'battle casualty' and his family gets higher compensation. Why not the same for soldiers dying in the equally treacherous high-altitude areas in Ladakh or Arunachal?" said a source.

India, of course, is now trying to play catch-up in the border infrastructure arena with China, which continues to claim the Tawang tract in Arunachal Pradesh as part of Tibet. PLA troops had last year intruded over 20 km into the Chaglagam sector of eastern Arunachal, pitched tents there and finally withdrew after spending three to four days in the area.

The incident was somewhat akin to the earlier 21-day faceoff triggered by the 19-km intrusion by PLA soldiers into Depsang valley in eastern Ladakh in April-May 2013. It led the two countries to ink the new border defence cooperation agreement (BDCA) last October.

The two armies are now implementing "practical measures" under the BDCA, which range from regular interactions and hotlines between formation commanders to additional border personnel meeting points and "no-tailing" of each other's patrols along the LAC.

The Sumdorong Chu episode

June 1986: People's Liberation Army troops begin to make "deep intrusions" in the Sumdorong Chu Valley of Arunachal. India lodges protest with China, which brushes it aside holding its troops are still north of McMahon Line.

August: Chinese troops construct helipad and other permanent structures in the area to operationally sustain its troops.

Sept-Oct: Amid rising diplomatic tempers, Army chief General K Sundarji airlifts an entire infantry brigade under Operation Falcon to Zimithang, a makeshift landing area close to Sumdorong Chu, to counter Chinese moves.

December: India makes Arunachal Pradesh a full-fledged state.

Early-1987: Troop reinforcements from both sides continue. India conducts major land and air Exercise Chequerboard in the eastern sector.

May-August 1987: Intense diplomatic engagement leads to lowering of tensions, ending the ongoing face-off. 
  - Timesofindia

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