Cannot Share Details of Missing Troops Along LAC, says Defence Ministry

A satellite image of Galwan Valley, May 22 (Photo: Reuters)

The Ministry of Defence says it cannot disclose whether or not Indian soldiers went missing following the clashes between India and China along the line of actual control (LAC), the demarcation line between the two countries, since May 5 this year, stating that it is “sensitive” information.

Since May 5, violent weeks-long clashes had erupted between Indian and Chinese soldiers along the LAC, first in Ladakh’s Pangong Tso and then near Patrolling Point 14 in eastern Ladakh’s Galwan Valley besides minor standoffs in the Sikkim sector. The army had said back in June that 20 Indians and an unreported number of Chinese soldiers were killed in the fight between troops with bare hands, stones, crude clubs and other improvised weapons rarely used in a modern battle in eastern Ladakh. Overall, the skirmishes along LAC involved hundreds of men on both sides.

The ministry also didn’t respond to a question on how many Indian soldiers have died along the LAC since May 5, and, once again, cited the sensitive nature of the information. A Right to Information (RTI) application filed on September 28 also asked if there were soldiers still missing from the Indian side. No answer was offered by the ministry.

“It is intimated that information sought by you is sensitive in nature. Hence the same is exempted from disclosure under Section 8 (1) (a) of the RTI Act 2005,” said the response from integrated headquarters of the ministry of defence in Delhi. Section 8 (1) (a) of the RTI Act says that “notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, there shall be no obligation to give any citizen, information, disclosure of which would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State, relation with foreign State or lead to incitement of an offence.”

The reply added, “This disposes of your RTI application dated 28 September. It is intimated that in view of restrictions imposed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, disposal of RTI cases has taken more than the stipulated time period as defined under RTI Act 2005.”

The savage killings of Indians soldiers by China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops in the freezing cold of Galwan Valley in June had raised concerns about the chances of an escalation of armed conflict following weeks of continual brawls along LAC amid loss of lives.

In an interview with Open, American military historian Edward Luttwak had described the Chinese brinkmanship as a policy of ‘controlled escalation’ envisioned by none other than Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has zealously infused ultra-nationalism into his vaulting geopolitical ambitions and expansionism.

In another interview, Rohan Mukherjee of Yale-NUS College had told Open that the difficulties of combat at high altitude, however, make it unlikely that skirmishes of this nature will escalate to all-out combat. He had said, “Having said that, the fact that the PLA soldiers were reported to be present at PP-14 in large numbers armed with clubs and rods suggests premeditation, and the very fact that they reneged on the mutual agreement to vacate PP-14 shows that they intended to push the limits of India’s resolve. The Indian Army decided to stand firm, instead of once again seeking a negotiation, and Chinese lives were undoubtedly lost. India’s reaction should suggest to Beijing that this sort of adventurism on the LAC will be less successful going forward.”

Several soldiers on both Indian and Chinese sides were said to have fallen into the icy cold Galwan River when they clashed with each other on ridges as high as 14,000 feet and some others who were wounded succumbed to freezing temperatures.

First published in Open

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