Border Roads Organisation (BRO)
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Border with China
Tardy progress; 2017: powers enhanced
Enhances BRO's Powers To Boost Infra
Confronted with the abysmal progress in building infrastructure for swifter mobility of troops and weapons along the line of actual control (LAC), the Centre has now approved greater delegation of administrative and financial powers to the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) for faster execution of construction projects.
But first, the grim reality check: only 27 “strategic roads“ (963km) of the 73 total ling 4,643km identified for construction along the LAC over 15 years ago have been completed. Moreover, the 14 long-proposed “strategic railway lines“ for the western and eastern fronts remain a mere pipedream, even though good progress has been made in re-activating advanced landing grounds for the IAF in both Ladakh and Arunachal. In comparison to India, China has built an extensive network of railway lines, highways, metal-top roads, air bases, radars, logistics hubs and other infrastructure in the Tibet Autonomous Region to sustain over 30 divisions (each with over 15,000 soldiers), including five to six “rapid reaction forces“ there.
The People's Liberation Army, however, would require a combat ratio of at least 9:1 (nine attackers for every one defender) if it really wants to take on Indian forces along the 4,057-km long LAC stretching from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh.Incidentally , the Indian Army has over a dozen divisions dedicated for the LAC, apart from several IAF airbases in the region. But the lack of infrastructure along the LAC remains a big worry . The defence ministry on Sunday said it “expected“ the pace of road construction in border areas to now “improve“ due to the delegation of powers to the level of chief engineers and task force commanders in the BRO.
“The BRO would be able to complete ongoingnew projects in compressed timelines,“ said an official. A chief engineer can now accord administrative approval of up to Rs 50 crore, additional director-general (ADGBR) up to Rs 75 crore and the DGBR up to Rs 100 crore for “both departmental and contractual mode of execution“ of works.
Similarly, a chief engineer can now accept bids for contracts up to Rs 100 crore, while it will be Rs 300 crore for the ADGBR. “This will en sure the entire tendering process for a majority of the contracts will be completed at the chief engineer ADGBR level itself,“ he added.
A chief engineer will now also have powers up to Rs 2 crore to outsource consultancy services, while it will be Rs 5 crore for ADGBR, with DGBR having full powers beyond that. Moreover, the DGBR will now be able to procure indigenous or imported construction equipment up to Rs 100 crore. “The MoD has also approved policy guidelines for BRO to adopt the EPC (engineering, procurement, construction) mode of execution, under which it may engage big construction companies to take up road projects on a turnkey basis,“ said the official.
All the 73 all-weather roads for the China front, with more east-west lateral links as well as better access routes to strategic peaks and valleys, were to be completed by 2012.
The government says the road construction pace will now pick up with the BRO undergoing a revamp under the defence ministry (it was earlier part of the road transport ministry), and being progressively equipped with more manpower, equipment and specialised machinery.“There are also faster clearances for land acquisition and environmental clearances now. Tunneling is also being considered for better road connectivity ,“ said an official.
2017: Chisumle and Demchok motorable road, world's highest
The 86-km long strategic road connects Chisumle and Demchok villages, located 230 km from Leh
Constructing the road at the altitude of over 19,300 feet was filled with life threatening challenges: Brigadier DM Purvimath
In a major feat, the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) has constructed the world's highest motorable road in Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir, passing through Umlingla Top at a height of over 19,300 feet.
The feat was achieved under 'Project Himank' of the organisation.
Being close to Hanle, the 86km long strategic road connects Chisumle and Demchok villages, located 230 km from Leh. These villages are stone's throw away from the India-China border in eastern sector, a spokesman of BRO said.
Felicitating the BRO personnel for completing the herculean task, chief engineer, Project Himank, Brigadier DM Purvimath, said constructing the road at the altitude of over 19,300 feet was filled with life-threatening challenges.
He said the climate at the location is always adverse for construction activities.
"During peak summers, temperature hovers around minus 10-20 degrees Celsius, and in winters, it dips to minus 40 degrees. Oxygen level at the altitude is 50 per cent less than at normal places," Purvimath said.
"Efficiency of machines and manpower declines by 50 per cent due to harsh climate and less oxygen level. Also, machine operators have to come down every 10 minutes for oxygen," he said. The brigadier said logistics was another major challenge at such an altitude.
"Taking equipment at such a height, repairing and maintaining it is a major task since equipment face a lot of breakdowns," he said. Purvimath said because of this gradation, the personnel faced serious health problems like loss of memory, eyesight and high blood pressure.
"Such a construction does not come without a cost, but given the national and strategic importance of the road, our men and machinery worked overnight to meet the targets set out by Director General, Border Roads," he said.
Pardeep Raj, Commander 753 BRTF, who looks after road construction of this sector, said the BRO personnel were acclimatised through a tedious process and lot of training before being assigned the job.
"Acclimatisation of men is done at three stages — Leh, Shakti and Numa — before being inducted into the sector. Physical and mental fitness of men is emphasised upon for working in the area as the working season is limited in the region," he said.
The Project Himank has already constructed roads like Khardangu La at an altitude of 17,900 ft and Changla Pass at 17,695 ft in Leh by connecting Nobra valley and Durbuk valley in the cold desert.
Quality, speed of work
CAG’s 2017 report
`Construction Nowhere Near Target'
As if the ever-expanding military asymmetry with China was not enough in terms of the defence budget, force-levels, missiles, fighters, submarines and the like, India continues to also flounder in developing the requisite border infrastructure for faster mobility of its troops and weapon systems in forward areas.
India in the later-1990s did junk its defensive mindset prevalent since the 1962 war, which held that development of any infrastructure along the unresolved 4,057-km Line of Actual Control (LAC) would actually help Chinese troops make faster inroads into India during a conflict.
But that change in outlook has not led to much concrete progress on the ground.Just 22-23 of the 73 “strategic“ roads identified for construction almost two decades ago have been fully completed till now. All these 73 allweather roads, with more east-west lateral links as well as better access routes to strategic peaks and valleys, were to be completed by 2012.
More alarmingly , as per the national audit watchdog, some of the completed roads are so substandard that specialised military vehicles, artillery howitzers and multiple-launch rocket systems (MLRS) cannot use them.
In its latest report tabled in Parliament on Friday , the CAG slammed the poor planning, tardy execution, contract mismanagement and financial irregularities dogging the construction of 61 (totalling 3,409-km) of the 73 roads (4,643-km) entrust ed to the Border Roads Organisation (BRO).
“The non-completion faulty specifications of works have a serious bearing on the operational capability of the armed forces in strategically sensitive areas,“ said the CAG. Already Rs 4,536 crore out of the Rs 4,644 crore approved for the 61 roads has been spent, but only 22 roads, with a total length of 707-km, have been constructed till now.
Moreover, there are “numerous instances of defective construction“ of roads. “Six roads (of the ones examined for the au dit), with a length of 197 km, were not fit for running specialised vehiclesequip ment such as the Bofors artillery gun, Smerch and Pinaka MLRS due to various limitations like steep gradients, less width, inadequate turning radius, defective alignment, etc,“ said the CAG.
In effect, while Indian troops with heavy equipment still have to trudge for miles to reach many of their forward posts along the LAC in the absence of road or rail connectivity , which could prove operationally disastrous during a conflict, the People's Liberation Army largely has metal roads and highways right till its border posts.
As earlier reported by TOI, with over five fully-operational airbases, an extensive rail network & over 58,000-km of roads in Tibet Autonomous Region, China can swiftly move over 30 divisions (each with over 15,000 soldiers) to the LAC to outnumber Indian forces by 3:1there.
The government, on its part, says the road construction pace will now pick up with BRO undergoing a revamp under the defence ministry (it was earlier part of the road transport ministry), and being progressively equipped with more manpower, equipment and specialised machinery . “There are also faster clearances for land acquisition and environmental clearances now.Tunneling is also being considered for better road connectivity ,“ said an official.