Securing India's future
Recent Indo-China standoff has brought back the nation’s focus on the work of BRO — vital projects that not only provide connectivity but also safety at the borders
The latest standoff between India and China on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) has brought focus on the Border Roads Organisation — BRO. One more significant event which the Hon'ble Prime Minister dedicated to the nation is the infrastructure project known as the Atal Tunnel on Manali Leh Highway. This nine km long tunnel shall reduce the distance by 46 KM and travel time to Leh significantly, taking us one step closer to making Ladakh connectivity an all-weather one. The nine km long Atal Tunnel, Rohtang which was under construction for about a decade, picked up pace in 2018-19. Now completed, the tunnel will ensure rapid deployment of troops and logistics during a border stand-off.
In fact, the whole situation is being attributed to the recent progress made by BRO in accelerating border infrastructure projects as these appear to have triggered alarm bells in the China security establishment. The increased pace of road construction along our borders is seen as an indication of India's offensive intent and highlights the strategic and important role of BRO. Since the current Director-General has taken over, BRO has seen a major surge in outcomes delivered in the last couple of years. This is evident from the fact that about 30 per cent more works were executed this year compared to last year in spite of COVID-19 restrictions. Furthermore, from a stagnant annual budget of about Rs 4,000 crore from 2009-15, the BRO budget for FY 2020-21 is now pegged at Rs 11,000 crore.
The strategic focus of the present Government of improving infrastructure along the northern and western borders has resulted in better connectivity in border and strategic areas. The strategic Pathankot-Jammu Highway that links J&K with rest of the country now has an alternate route with 17 bridges along international borders and over four lakh people in 217 villages will have all-weather connectivity. Along the LOC with POK, work on the up-gradation of Akhnoor-Poonch Highway with four tunnels and bypasses around congested areas will reduce the distance by 34 Km and facilitate swift movement of armed forces.
In Kashmir Valley, where the Government is keen to ensure all-round development, four-laning of the Srinagar-Baramulla-Uri Highway is being carried out. The roads towards the LOC from places like Tangdhar, Keran, Gurez, etc., are being upgraded and tunnels are being planned across strategic passes.
The long term plan for all-weather connectivity to Leh hinges upon the construction of Z-Morh and Zojila tunnels on the Srinagar-Kargil-Leh Highway. The Ministry of Road Transport & Highways and BRO have jointly planned three more tunnels at Baralacha, Tanglingla and Lanchungla along the Manali-Sarchu-Leh Highway. Though this shall mean huge expenditure and is an extremely time-consuming exercise. BRO is also working on connecting Leh through the Zanskar Valley through the construction of a new road which joins Darcha on Manali-Leh Highway with Nimu on Kargil-Leh Highway.
While axial connectivity towards forward areas remains the area of focus, there is also a need to ensure lateral links parallel to the LAC for strategic purposes. A road between Ladakh and Himachal Pradesh through Sumdog-Korzok-Kaito which involves the construction of a tunnel at Taklingla has been planned. Similar plans are also in place to connect the forward areas of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand from Karcham to Harsil with a tunnel at Lamkhaga Pass.
In Uttrakhand, there are three sectors wherein roads lead up to the China border. These are Harshil, Joshimath and Pithoragarh sectors. In Harshil sector, the double lane road is complete for 316 km up to PDA which is just 16 km from Thagla Pass on China border. In Joshimath sector, the roads to the China border get bifurcated into two limbs. BRO has connected Mana Pass and provided a double lane road till Ghastoli. Both Niti Pass and Rimkhim are connected. BRO has already connected the Kailash-Mansarovar Yatra route up to Navidang and also the route to Adi Kailash Parbat.
BRO has also been entrusted with 400 km of roads in Uttarakhand and 250 km of roads in Sikkim under the Bharatmala Project at a cost of over Rs 9,000 crore. In North Sikkim. double lane roads are being provided right up to the Sino-India border under Bharatmala Pariyojna. In East Sikkim, BRO has completed roads up to the Dokala and this year it'll complete another shorter alignment road to Dokala from Flag Hill. Further northwards, border locality of Chola has been connected with Gangtok by BRO and an alternate alignment connecting it to North Sikkim is under progress via Tamze to Toong.
Trans-Arunachal Highway will connect at the base of all five valleys. Major works are being undertaken in Arunachal Pradesh on the road to Tawang. This sector saw a lot of action during the 1962 war with China. The entire road of 317 km has been double laned with 42 km of bypasses and tunnels designed for smooth flow of traffic. This road is being given all-weather connectivity by BRO by constructing tunnels at Nechiphu and Sela.
In the last two decades, China has undertaken rapid infrastructure development in Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), including in the areas close to its border with India. This has enhanced China's force application and logistic sustenance capability in TAR. The only way to counter this is by way of enhancing our infrastructure in the region. The Indo-China Border Road (ICBR) Project was launched to reduce our mobilisation timings and connect our forward localities. Accordingly, the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) identified 73 ICBRs. These 73 roads are spread in five states / UT bordering China. BRO has connected the farthest most localities of Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO), Hotspring, Demchok and Zursar. DBO was an air maintained post which is now connected with a 255 km long Darbuk-Shyok - DBO road. This road has reduced the travel time from erstwhile seven days to only one day.
In Himachal, forward most localities of Point 4840, Lepcha and Shipkila have been connected. In Uttarakhand, forward-most localities of Sumla, Mana Pass, Niti Pass, Rimkhim, Jolingkong and Lipulekh have been connected. In Sikkim, forward most localities of Kerang, Dongkheala, Gorala, Chola, Nathula and Dokala have been connected. In Arunachal Pradesh, forward most localities of Khardungla, Vasu Rock, Bumla, Chuna, Taksing, Lamang, Tadadege, Gelling, Kibithu and Dichu have been connected.
Efficient and strategic infrastructure enhances the capabilities of armed forces many-fold. We must congratulate thousands of Border Road engineers for their commendable work in building this infrastructure in extreme weather and geographical conditions. The close coordination between various agencies of the Government like the Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Road Transport & Highways has resulted in the speedy construction of roads. With a recent push in border infrastructure by PM Modi, BRO's work has provided the vital muscle in securing India's borders.
The writer is an independent observer on infrastructure, economy, and governance who is presently an advisor to the Minister of Road Transport & Highways. Views expressed are personal