By Anil Bhat
Celebrating the 52nd Raising Day of Border Roads Organisation (BRO) recently, Lt Gen S Ravi Shankar, its Director General highlighted the work done over this period in extremely challenging conditions along the borders in places like Zojila, Khardungla and Changla in the North and Tawang and Sela in the East. “We are now working even closer to the borders and under more challenging conditions…The past year has been very eventful with Projects such as the cable stayed bridge at Basohli starting and the longest departmentally constructed bridge at Digaru getting completed. BRO’s response to the earthquake was widely acclaimed as also was the timely response to keep Srinagar connected despite heavy snow. With BRO braving winters like never before, the Rohtang and Zojila passes have been opened well ahead of schedule this year”, he said while interacting with this newspaper.
Addressing the commanders of all three services at New Delhi, on April 2, Defence Minister A.K. Antony highlighted that “China’s rise as an economic and military power and its assertive policies have implications for India” and that “China’s strategic rivalry with India and Japan would definitely affect the Asian security environment”.
It was Antony who blew the whistle on China’s massive strategic build-up in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), which it occupies facing Arunachal Pradesh, when he visited the state in early 2008 and observed China’s major strategic infrastructural development across the Line of Actual Control there. His visit was followed shortly in February, 2008, by Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh who announced a massive long overdue developmental package for “our land of the rising sun” -only increasing China’s ire.
The decision for speedy implementation of projects by BRO in Arunachal Pradesh meant relocation of its resources from other states. However, with the kind of challenges the altitude and terrain that Arunachal Pradesh poses for road construction, then Director-General, Border Roads, Lt. General MC Badhani, made a considered request for helicopters to move equipment to complete the project at a fast pace. Minister of State for Defence Mr Pallam Raju gave BRO the green signal of hiring helicopters from outside agencies to expedite construction of strategic roads in Arunachal Pradesh and other Himalayan border states, like Uttarakhand, during a meeting of the Border Roads Development Board (BRDB) held at Itanagar. Out of a total of 5061 kms of road length planned in high altitude areas, 2764 kms of roads are for Arunachal alone.
That fast track drive begun following the PM’s visit has begun bearing fruit with Project Udayak of BRO completing the 720-meters-long bridge in Arunachal Pradesh. Linking the vast gap of Lohit and Dibang valley the Digaru Bridge, as it has been named, fulfils the long-standing requirements of infrastructure-communications development for Arunachal Pradesh and also for strategic movement of men and material for the Army, particularly in view of China’s development of the TAR the and the Chinese forces deployed there. It is the longest bridge constructed by the BRO ever and was inaugurated recently by Minister of State for Defence and Chairman, Border Roads Development Board, MM Pallam Raju at a function in Lohit district.
The Digaru bridge is yet another challenge commendably overcome by BRO as it has been erected in extremely tough terrain and harsh weather conditions. Mr. Pallam Raju too faced bad weather which prevented his helicopter from taking off for Tezu. Deciding to travel by road, Dr. Pallam Raju underwent more than five hours grueling journey including crossing of Alubari Ghat on traditional ferries/boats and experienced the hardships faced by the local population as well as Army personnel in terms of logistics in the absence of bridges in the foothills of Arunachal Pradesh. Local authorities and the Army’s ‘Dao’ Mountain Division made all logistic arrangements for the movement of the Minister by road and ferry crossings flawlessly, despite the short notice. During the road journey, Dr. Pallam Raju inspected each activity of road/bridge construction on National Highways NH-13 and NH-15. After the inauguration, he also inspected the portion of trans-Arunachal Highway being constructed by the BRO and visited Paya
Production Centre where all the pavement works material is being produced. The Minister complemented BRO for the excellent work being executed comparable to the international standards despite severe constraints.
Other major projects in Arunachal Pradesh are the 637.60 m long Noadhing bridge on NH-52, the second longest bridge constructed by the BRO and a 480 m long 8 spans PSC box girder bridge (Siku bridge) on road Ranaghat-Mabo-Dambuk on NH-52 at km 561.03 by using departmental resources without involvement of contractors.
Planning Commission has entrusted eight roads in Nagaland, one road in Manipur, one road in Tripura and improvement of roads and bridges on 18 roads in backward districts of Bodoland Autonomous Council (BAC) area of Assam, having a length of 703 km with approximate cost of Rs.460 crore. Subsequently, these roads have been funded by Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region under NLCPR programme. BRO has completed most of these roads and handed them over to respective State PWDs. Presently, only three roads in Nagaland, one road each in Manipur and Tripura and nine bridges in BAC area of Assam are in progress. Work on two additional roads in Manipur is under progress through NEC funding.
With the humble beginning of two projects in 1960, Beacon in the North and Vartak in the East, today there are 15 Chief Engineer Projects spread over the length and breadth of the country. BRO has earned the reputation of the only road construction agency in the country to construct and maintain roads in the most difficult and inhospitable terrain, altitude and climate obtaining anywhere in the world. The people of India’s border areas have immense faith in BRO towards maintenance of lifelines of Sikkim, Bhutan, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland, Tripura, Meghalaya, Jammu & Kashmir, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
BRO has constructed 46780 km of roads in difficult and remote areas of the country. This includes new constructions, improvement from single lane to double lane and roads for coal fields of Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha. BRO, had over the years, bridged river gaps of the hilly regions of North & North East with equipment bridges like Bailey, Bailey Suspension, Hamilton and Inglis bridges. These are being replaced with major/minor permanent bridges. BRO has replaced 29302 m of temporary bridges with permanent bridges.
BRO is currently constructing approximately 9000 Kms of roads, maintaining about 20000 Kms of roads, including 5000 Kms of National Highways. Another vitally important activity of the BRO is winter and summer snow clearance, in high altitude/snow bound areas to keep roads open for traffic during winter and open up roads closed in winter, before the summer sets in. There are approximately 90 roads of a total length of 2900 kms in J&K, Himachal, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh, where the BRO carries out snow clearance, not only to ensure the provision of logistic support for the Army, but also to provide road connectivity to the local population in these far flung areas. Some of these roads traverse over mountain passes as high as over 16,000 feet and snow precipitation of 3 to 4.5 meters, with the accumulation as high as 31 meters at avalanche sites.
Government of India has sanctioned construction of 27 roads along the international border with China to facilitate movement of the border guarding forces, while, another major road along the border with Bhutan in Assam has been approved. The annual report of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) revealed that to redress the situation arising out of poor road connectivity, which hampered the operational capability of the forces deployed along the border with China, the Government of India has decided to undertake phase-wise construction of 27 roads in the border areas in the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Sikkim. The total cost for the same has been estimated at Rs 1937 crore. The detailed project reports of the roads have already been approved by the High Level Empowered Committee of the MHA, while, the forest and environment clearance of 26 of those roads has been received. Government has also approved 313 kilometres of road along the international border with
Bhutan in Assam at a project cost of Rs 1259 crore. The project is to be completed in five years and the State Government has constituted a committee headed by an additional chief secretary to sort out all the issues pertaining to the construction of the road including land acquisition.
The MHA report further said that 13 battalions of personnel have been deployed along the international border with Bhutan and 131 border outposts have been set up. A bilateral mechanism has been put in place to assess the threat perception from time to time and the mechanism has been quite successful, the report added.
Known for its capabilities and efficiency, BRO has been called upon to execute some major tasks in foreign countries. It was entrusted with the technically and high security risk assignment of constructing the 215 km long road Delaram-Zaranj in Afghanistan by Government of India. Incidentally, this is the first tarmac road in Nimroz Province of Afghanistan executed by large detachment of the BRO, comprising approximately 700 personnel (300 BRO & 400 ITBP) and successfully completed on 17th July, 2008. In attacks by Pakistani/Pakistan supported terrorists on its road building teams, BRO lost three personnel and the ITBP guarding them lost two. Rehabilitation of the runway along with other auxiliary works like construction of aprons, ATC buildings and other facilities in Tajikistan was done in a record time of 10 months at a cost of Rs.50 crore. 160 km of high quality road was constructed in Burma/Myanmar along Tamu – Kalemyo – Kalewa in record time. In Bhutan, Project Dantak has constructed and maintained roads, and constructed an International Airport at Paro at an altitude of 2300 m in 1968 and subsequently strengthened and extended of the same in 2007-08.