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Border Roads Organisation

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 metres 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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