The government said it will not withdraw forces from the Saltoro range heights on the Siachen Glacier despite the human and financial costs, adding the country needs to maintain its strategic positions.
“For strategic reasons, the position of Saltoro Range and the highest position we have… strategically, this area is very important for us to man. I know there is a price we are paying for it and I salute our brave soldiers. But I think we need to maintain these positions without hesitation,” Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said in the Lok Sabha.
He was responding to a supplementary by AIADMK member B. Senguttuvan, who sought to know the strategic advantage for stationing Indian troops on the glacier.
“If we vacate these positions and if the enemy occupies them, it will be almost impossible and we will have to lose many more lives to recover them, as was the experience in 1984 when they were not fully occupied,” Parrikar said.
“As far as Pakistan is concerned, I do not think anyone in the house will take their word for granted. So, we have to maintain our strategic advantage,” he added.
The minister said that by using special cold weather equipment and upgrading continuous supply, the government had managed to cut down on loss of human lives, with the number of soldiers dying in Siachen pegged at around 10 per year.
“The number of losses has been brought down but you cannot totally conquer nature. This incident of avalanche (February 3) was a misfortune. No one could have predicted a complete wall coming down. So, except that, in the last four years, the number of soldiers who lost their lives in the glacier area has come down to an average of 10 per year,” he said.
“During the last 33 years, we have lost a total of 915 personnel. This averages to around 28 per year,” he added.
Parrikar assured the house that those who work in very difficult areas like the Siachin would be properly compensated.
“Once the analysis of the VIIth Pay Commission is available with the defence ministry, which is under examination, we will be able to declare this. There will be an increase. We cannot predict it now as to how much it will be,” he said.
In a written reply to another question, the minister was asked about the extreme weather conditions on the Siachen in winters, and the steps taken for the welfare of soldiers stationed there.
“The troops deployed in this area are suitably equipped and trained to undertake the operational challenges and carry out their mandated tasks,” Parrikar said.
“The weather conditions in the area are closely monitored and weather warnings issued are strictly followed in terms of restriction on the troop movement,” he added.