Border Roads Organisation
Both China and Pakistan have moved towards a focused and long term infrastructure development plan in the Northern areas. These plans will enable these countries to concentrate and move sizeable forces, all along the Indian border and will pose a significant threat in the event of any conflict. The Border Roads Organisation [BRO] plays a very vital role in connecting the inaccessible border areas. BRO was raised on May 7, 1960 with the mission of developing communication in hither to forlorn areas of the north and North-East states of India and also fortification of the turbulent borders. BRO, the brain child of first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru came into existence on May 7, 1960 as a pioneer road construction agency. With a humble beginning of two projects the organisation has grown vast and vibrant. The organisation has till date constructed 28,342 kms of formation cutting, 32,885 kms of surfacing, 12,200 meters of permanent bridges and has undertake Rs 2039 crore worth of permanent works. Today, BRO is diversifying in various other areas from road construction to airfields, building works and construction of model hospitals, bridges etc.
Defence Minister Rajanth Singh said 07 July 2020 that the construction of strategic roads, bridges and tunnels in the border areas will be expedited. Mr. Singh said, Border Roads Organisation (BRO) is working vigorously towards this goal. The Minister reviewed the ongoing infrastructure projects of BRO at a high-level meeting in New Delhi. During the meeting, the state of forward connectivity to border areas was reviewed and the consistent need of boosting the ongoing projects and to expedite the construction of strategic roads, bridges and tunnels in the border areas was discussed. The BRO has worked incessantly even during the restrictions imposed due to COVID-19 without affecting the progress of various projects.
Despite unprecedented snowfall, breaking 60 year old record, all strategic passes and roads were cleared this year for traffic about one month before their average yearly opening dates. While lauding the BRO for its achievements, Mr. Singh exhorted it to continue its work to achieve even greater laurels. The BRO has also inducted latest equipment and machines and has introduced modern construction methods after successful trials to expedite works on surfacing with cementations base, use of plastics, geotextiles, and various techniques for slope stabilisation. Trials have also been carried out successfully for indigenously produced modular bridges in collaboration. This will revolutionise the bridge laying capabilities in forward areas.
Admitting that there are delays in execution of works, BRO stated that a need was felt for BRO to change its old construction philosophy and move towards outsourcing the projects to not only improve the pace of execution of the projects but also enhance its absorption capacity to take up more projects than what BRO is capable of. Earlier, BRO being a Departmental construction agency, did not outsource road projects and did only selective outsourcing of small stretches of works, mostly for supply of material for surfacing works. As a result, only small local contractors participated in the works of BRO, who may not be able to bring the requisite modernization/efficiency in the construction works executed by BRO. To improve the pace of execution of infrastructure projects in the border areas Guidelines have been issued by the Ministry to adopt EPC mode of execution for all projects for which the value as per the DPR is above Rs 100 Crores so that these projects can further be offered for outsourcing to big construction companies’ as viable projects through competitive bidding.
BRO is generally working in the far flung/remote locations in the border areas where deployment of very sophisticated equipments, is not feasible as the repair support, supply point of spare parts etc are at a considerable distance. Hence, the equipments being used are of medium and indigenous type.
Proactive measures were taken by Border Roads Organisation (BRO) to complete the work on strategic Atal Tunnel in the Pir Panjal ranges of Himachal Pradesh, which by May 2020 was at the crucial stage of construction. Road surface works, installation of electro-mechanic fittings including lighting, ventilation and intelligent traffic control systems are being executed. One steel super structure bridge of 100 meter length across river Chandra on the North Portal of the tunnel is also under construction. The work was halted for 10 days due to the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak.
Director General Border Roads Lt Gen Harpal Singh had taken up the matter with Himachal Chief Minister Shri Jai Ram Thakur. This resulted in resumption of work on April 05, 2020 with on-site labour in active coordination with the State Government. Works in Atal Tunnel are being executed with all necessary COVID-19 precautions in place to ensure its completion in September 2020 as planned.
Atal Tunnel is being constructed since Manali-Sarchu-Leh road remains closed for six months every year due to Rohtang Pass being completely snow bound between November and May. The tunnel will connect Manali to Lahaul Valley throughout the year and will reduce the road length of Manali-Rohtang Pass Sarchu-Leh road by 46 kilometres. Besides connecting the people of Lahual to rest of India through the year the tunnel will aid the forward connectivity offering the security forces a major strategic advantage.
Border Roads Organisation, popularly known as BRO, is a civil engineering institution responsible to provide civil (construction) engineering cover to the Armed Forces of India, during war and peace. The organisation is manned partly by civil engineers drawn from Corps of Engineers of the Army, but mainly by those recruited exclusively for BRO. The latter complement of manpower is called General Reserve Engineer Force (GREF). The organisation is under Ministry of Defence for specific deployment but placed under Ministry of Highways for general administration. The GREF troops, like soldiers of other Armed Forces, are governed by Army Act, 1950, though with a difference. The difference pertains to the method of the recruitment and the terms of salary, pension, leave, retirement benefits etc.
India is strategically located vis-a-vis both Continental Asia and the Indian Ocean Region. It has a landmass of 3.3 million square Kms. India has 14,880 Kms. long land border running through 92 districts in 17 States and share with seven neighbouring counties viz. Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, China, Bhutan and Nepal. This unique strategic location poses unique challenges to the Armed Forces, paramilitary forces and State Governments for the effective management of borders. Strengthening of Border Roads is needed to provide effective logistical facility to India`s defence forces specially in the North Eastern part of the Country. During the 1960s, the socio economic development of border areas was greatly handicapped by meager and inadequate road infrastructure.
The requirement of raising BRO was felt during fifties when it was found that the lofty Himalayas was no longer effective as a natural protective wall. Pak-sponsored marauders had already played havoc in Jammu and Kashmir in 1948. The possibility of an aggression from Chinese side was also imminent. Positioning of Indian troops farthest in Himalayas had thus become obligatory but there were no means of communication for their deployment and maintenance in the mountainous tract. Setting up of a network of new roads was essential in the so far inaccessible highlands. The civil engineering element of State resources viz PWD could hardly tackle the massive task. It was at that juncture that the Indian Parliament decided to raise BRO/GREF under the stewardship of the Engineer-in-Chief of the Corps of Engineers. The auspicious event took place on May 7, 1960.
Initially, only two projects were raised, one at Srinagar in West and the other at Tezpur in the East. At that time the organisation was intended to be only a temporary outfit. As the time passed, requirement of roads in the mountainous terrain soared and the outfit delivered satisfactorily. The organisation went on expanding. Today, BRO has 13 projects, each commanded by a Brigadier of Engineers or a GREF Chief Engineer of a rank equivalent to Brigadier.
Further, the Defence of these areas also required reliable and dependable road network. Accordingly, a plan for road construction in border areas was envisioned and a number of schemes/road development plans were conceived by the Government. In order to create infrastructure, an urgent need to augment all these road development plans was felt to meet the security needs as well as to develop these under developed remote areas leading to borders.
The organisation was assigned just about 700 km of new road-formation to be cut in sixties but today they have nearly 40,000 km of hills and plain roads in their charge. Most of the roads assigned to them are in remote Himalayan heights—from Saichen Glacier in the west to the Blue Mountain in Mizoram in the east. It is, therefore, no surprise that India Today in one of its special issues published on August 19, 2002, acclaimed BRO as the fifth most important asset of the nation.
In order to facilitate effective border management, security and development of infrastructure in inaccessible areas adjoining the China Border, a total of 73 strategically important roads were identified by the Government as Indo China Border Roads (ICBRs). Out of these 73 ICBRs, execution of 61 roads having a total length of 3409.27 km with estimated costs of Rs. 4644 crore were entrusted to Border Roads Organisation (BRO) with their targeted completion by 2012. The balance 12 roads were entrusted to other agencies such as CPWD, NBCC and State PWDs for execution. Out of the 39 roads which are not completed, by 2018 connectivity (formation works completed) has been achieved in respect of 21 roads. Of the remaining 18 roads, works are under progress on 17 roads while work on Road Timbu-Mago-Chuna in Arunachal Pradesh not yet started due to non-finalisation of the alignment by MHA.
Out of 61 Indo China Border Roads (ICBRs) planned to be completed by 2012, only 15 roads had been completed by 2012. Out of the balance 46 roads, only 07 roads were completed by March, 2016 extending the Probable Date of Completion (PDC) of balance roads upto the year 2021. Thus 22 roads (36%) had only been completed upto March 2016, despite incurring an expenditure of Rs.4536 Crore (98 percent) against the estimated cost of Rs.4644 Crores for 61 ICBRs. The main reason for cost escalation was time overrun, which has occurred due to delay in forest/Wild Life Clearance, restricted working season, inadequate air logistic support, terrain and technical constraints, limited attack points, extreme remoteness of the area resulting in non-availability of skilled and experienced labour, inadequate availability of construction material.
Numerous instances of defective construction of roads were noticed which resulted in delay in completion of strategic roads. Due to extremely hostile and challenging terrains, where these ICBRs were being constructed, the first priority was to provide end to end connectivity. At times and at some locations the work was partially completed in order to achieve end to end connectivity. The improvement work at such locations is ongoing process. BRO also maintains these roads and therefore if on construction, user feels certain improvement or addition is required and if it is feasible, the improvement works are undertaken.
BRO usually works in remote to very remote mountainous areas along the international border which are inhabited mostly by tribal people. All these tribes are very happy with BRO. There are two reasons for that. One, by cutting new roads in difficult to most difficult tribal areas, the BRO has brought about tremendous change in communications leading to marked improvement in economy and the living and working conditions of the tribals. Two, the expenditure incurred by BRO on various roads comes from the Government of India funds saving the limited State funds for execution of other developmental activities.
Take the case of Himachal Pradesh. In and around this state, the organisation has project Deepak. The project looks after some of the most sensitive roads like Hindustan-Tibet road from Wangtu to Shipikila; Manali-Serchu road and Dhami-Basantpur-Kingal road. The project has quite a few roads and strategic canals in Punjab, Haryana and Uttranchal also. The Himachal Government is now inclined to hand over Karcham-Chitkul road also to BRO.
Project Deepak came into existence in May, 1962. It has given a very good account of itself. The BRO men are able to build roads on war-footing within a short notice. On the night of August 17, 1997, the Himalayan ranges forming upper catchment of river Satluj in Shimla district of Himachal Pradesh, had a cloud burst. The flow of the river was blocked near Wangtu. As a consequence, the valley had in no time turned into a lake — nearly 6.5 km long and 600 to 800 mtr wide. Some 5 km length of the road was either submerged in the lake so formed or completely washed away. Kinnaur district was completely cut off. The tribal area needed a lifeline road most for carting out cash crop of apples and other fresh and dry fruits and for stocking ration, oil, petroleum products and construction stores. There was an untold pressure on the civil administration to restore the communications. There being no other link to the Kinnaur valley, it was essential to build the alternative relief road as early as possible. BRO was given a target to cutting 3 km-long new formation from Tapri side to the point where a new high level suspension-cum-bailey bridge was proposed to be launched. Time allotted was just five months. The BRO troops, unmindful of the hardships, worked round-the-clock in three shifts and cut the new road in just about two-and-a-half months. Even prior in 1997 certain high altitude areas of Himachal Pradesh had been exposed to a number of calamities. BRO has all along been helping the civil administration in relief operations, especially in opening up of the paralysed communications by building new roads on highest priority.
BRO played amajor role during operation Vijay. The Srinagar - Sonamarg - Kargil - Leh and Manali - Sarchu - Leh axes were opened well in advance facilitating the movement of armed forces. Many other operationally important airfields and road sectors were also opened and maintained for mobilisation of troops and provision of stores.
Snow clearance continues to be one of the most unique tasks performed by BRO. The daredevils slog day and night in subzero temperatures and in conditions almost beyond human endurance to keep Changla and Khardungla open throughout the year and keep the hostile border in constant touch and vigil. Opening of Zojila, Rohtang, Baralachala and Tanglangla much ahead of schedule are testimony to the tireless and dauntless efforts of the BRO. It is only due to efforts of the BRO that Ladakh, higher reaches of Himachal, the Kashmir Valley and the dizzy heights of the North East are connected to the rest of the country.
The BRO’s task is not a cake walk. The job takes a heavy toll in terms of human lives. During 1999 BRO lost 445 of its valiant men to militancy, natural calamity and road accidents in difficult terrains. Targets for the year 1999-2000 have already been achieved. A total 715 kms of formation cutting, 1574 kms of surfacing, 1410 metres of length of bridges and Rs 21715 lakh of permanent works have been successfully completed during the financial year. Road under maintenance by BRO is 16872 kms.
In 1987, the BRO was entrusted with the construction of roads and fencing the Indo-Bangladesh border in the states of Tripura, Meghalaya and Mizoram. The Ministry of Home Affairs sponsored the construction of roads and fencing along the borders Bangladesh. These are commonly known as Indo-Bangladesh Border Roads or IBB Roads. Out of 910.1 Kms of roads, 733 kms have been completed. The budget for 1999-2000 was approximately Rs 13 crore.
As to the question on Indo-Bangla border fencing, 749 kms of IBB roads and 960 kms of fencing have been identified which is to commence in the year 2000-2001. The year 2000 was also dedicated to the General Reserve Engineering Force (GREF) Pioneer and the Casual Paid Labourer, the backbone of the organisation.
Keeping pace with Information Technology (IT) in the fast changing era, BRO will be introducing IT to enhance decision-making. The future vision for BRO is to become a leading construction organisation, undertaking a diverse range of construction works across the length and breadth of the country with speed, quality and cost effectiveness.
Now based on the operational requirements of the Army and consequent upon the decision taken in the National Security Council meeting, it was decided that BRO may focus on core strategic functions on the borders and MoD along with MoRT&H will work out the modalities of separating BRO’s strategic road building functions from infrastructure development in left Wing Extremism–affected areas and other internal roads. Accordingly, certain roads in the hinterland, which were earlier constructed by BRO and are now further required to be improved, are identified to be handed over to other agencies so that BRO is able to utilize its resources optimally for construction of roads, which are of strategic importance in the border areas and will meet the operational requirements of the Army. The decisions to hand over the roads to civil agencies are also taken in accordance with the National Highway Development Plan called “Bharatmala”.