Defence Ministry clears new corps on China border

FP

After much back and forth, the Defence Ministry has cleared setting up of a mountain strike corps along the China border, signalling its intent to press ahead with plans to strengthen offensive military capabilities despite recent calls from Beijing for a "new type" of military relationship.

The plan involves fresh accretion of close to 89,000 soldiers and 400 officers. The focus, sources said, is to be able to launch a counter-offensive into Tibet in case of a "Kargil-type adventure" by China.

The proposal was first mooted in 2010 and given an in-principle go ahead by the Cabinet Committee on Security a year later, but was sent back last year with instructions for a re-look by all three services so that a common plan could be drawn up.

It took the Chiefs of Staff Committee another six months to review the plan, which was also essential because the Army Chief had changed since the proposal was first moved.

Sources said the proposal has now been reworked with some minor changes relating to additional Air Force elements. The projected amount too has gone up marginally from the earlier estimate of about Rs 65,000 crore.

The new strike corps is expected to come up in Panagarh, West Bengal, along with two more divisions. An independent armoured brigade along with an artillery division may be part of the set-up. Already, two divisions are being raised in the eastern theatre.

However, the road ahead will still be difficult, particularly given the strain on the Finance Ministry at this point. While this is not going to be a one-time expenditure, it does fly in the face of North Block's efforts to effect expenditure cuts to contain the growing fiscal deficit.

In its last version too, the proposal had faced some tough questions from the Finance Ministry, including a searching query on how long South Block expected the China threat to last. As of now, China has made some very conciliatory noises. However, New Delhi believes that is because of its preoccupation on the eastern front.

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