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A total of 869 Army personnel have lost their lives on the Siachen glacier due to climatic conditions and environmental and other factors till date since the Army launched Operation Meghdoot in 1984, the government informed Parliament on Friday.
The casualties include 33 officers, 54 junior commissioned officers and 782 of other ranks. The government has taken a series of measures to ensure the best equipment is provided to soldiers and bring down casualties.
“In order to fast-track procurement of clothing and equipment for defence personal deployed in very high altitude areas like Siachen, an Empowered Committee (EC) under the chairmanship of Master-General of Ordnance (MGO) has been set up with full powers of competent financial authority,” Minister of State for Defence Rao Inderjit Singh said in a written reply in the Lok Sabha.
Mr. Singh said that special dispensation for placing 100 per cent repeat order has also been given to the committee. Moreover, sufficient quantities of these items are kept in reserve in Army Headquarters to avoid any shortage.
Stressing that operational deployment along the borders is a dynamic process based on assessment of threat to the national security, Mr. Singh said that out of 55 items of clothing and mountaineering equipment, only 20 items are imported.
Despite this assertion the fact remains the despite operating in the most unique conditions for three decades, India has not managed to develop the most basic items domestically. For instance, the special shoes, snow goggles, gloves and so on are all imported.
More soldiers have been lost on the glacier due to the extreme weather conditions than enemy fire. India and Pakistan declared a ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC) and the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) across the Siachen in 2003. Though the LoC has seen ceasefire violations, guns have remained silent across the AGPL since.
Pakistan despite holding peaks at lower altitudes has been suffering casualties at the rate of 30 per year. In a rare revelation Pakistan recently stated that between 2003-10, it has lost 213 soldiers in Siachen. In 2012 alone over 130 soldiers were killed in an avalanche.
Several experts have questioned the need for maintaining armies on the glacier with such high casualties and cost. The Army has over time streamlined procedures and procured better equipment significantly lowering the casualty figures in the last decade.
Ruling out any withdrawal in the present circumstances former Army Chief General Deepak Kapoor said “before any talk of withdrawal takes place, what we have gained after shedding lot of blood has to be clearly delineated and demarcated like the rest of the Line of Control (LoC) upto point NJ984.”
He said that India has made lot of efforts over the years and improved the logistics infrastructure because of which the casualties happening has come down tremendously.
“The strategic importance of Siachen requires that we continue to hold its commanding heights in national interests,” Gen. Kapoor added.
Serving officers echoed similar views. “The casualties have dropped steeply over the last decade as we are now better equipped and prepared against the weather,” said an officer currently serving on the glacier.
From: The Hindu