December 24, 2013
Dipak Kumar Dash, TNN
NEW DELHI: To push road construction in border states and to improve inter-state connectivity in these regions, highways ministry has moved a proposal to set up a company to implement road construction in these areas.
The ministry has circulated a note seeking comments from other ministries before the proposal is officially put before the Cabinet for approval. “The company will function under the ministry. Majority of the road projects in the north-east, Uttarakhand and some stretches in Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh will be implemented by this company. We have proposed that the realignment and redevelopment of major NHs in Uttarakhand will be brought under its jurisdiction,” said a ministry official.
Sources said quite a few of these road projects are likely to be funded by Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and Asian Development Bank.
Most of the roads likely to be brought under the new company are with the Border Road Organization (BRO). Sources added that there have been concerns over slow progress of road construction in border areas and these were also raised in the national security council.
TOI had first reported the ministry’s move to rude the load on BRO, which is “overstretched” with other commitments so that it can “concentrate more on strategic roads”.
December 17, 2013
The Defence Minister of India had assured the Parliament in May 2012 that 82 strategic roads in the north-east were being double-laned, as priority, to provide effective logistical facility to India`s defence forces in the Arunachal Pradesh border with China. India’s road network in the region constructed and maintained by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) involves nearly 11700 km of roads. BRO was conceived and raised in 1960 by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru with the objective of speedy development of road network and infrastructure in the northern and north-eastern border areas of India. A substantial part are General Staff (GS) roads, i.e., roads which primarily serve logistical needs of the defence forces and are funded by the Union Ministry of Surface Transport (MOST) budget while the others are roads of economic and strategic importance (assets of the states) constructed with non-MOST funds but within the purview of the BRO.
The importance of the road network in the north-east needs no emphasis. India is now raising the 17 Mountain Corps at Panagarh in West Bengal to augment its strategic strike capability vis-à-vis China. The BRO is the key instrument to realise the road network objective and provide the required logistical capability to this Corps. But is the BRO adequately attuned towards achieving this objective?
According to an official testifying in the Parliament on the 8th Report of the Standing Committee on Defence (2009-2010), “…two years back the philosophy of our nation was that we should not make roads as near to the border as possible. That philosophy is telling today very clearly as to why we do not have roads. It is only two or three years back that we suddenly decided a change of philosophy and said no, we must go as far forward as possible.”1 This Parliamentary Standing Committee Report had succinctly summed up the hiatus between the strategic needs of India and concomitant priorities and actual functioning of the BRO.
The Ministry of Defence had then indicated to the Committee that more funds would be allocated to the BRO and the organization was to be provided with adequate manpower.(2) The fact, however, is that the BRO does not suffer from any resource constraint and also has an enabling organizational structure, with its functionaries having adequate administrative and financial powers. The BRO`s expenditure on GS works has increased from Rs 830 crores in 2003-04 to Rs 2773 crores in 2012-13.2 However, the BRO could spend Rs 2773 crores only in the last financial year of its budget (BE) allocation of Rs 3300 crores on GS works.3
The BRO project chief engineers execute their projects by engaging hired civilian labour in the construction companies. The availability of labour with the task forces and the construction companies is not an issue. The chief engineers have institutionally an internal financial advisory support element and are vested with full powers to decide on the labour rates. In other words, neither fund availability nor manpower resources may be deemed as constraints for the BRO in achieving its GS works targets. The apparent shortfall in the BRO`s performance in relation to the logistical needs of the armed forces, is therefore, required to be carefully examined.
As a line organization, i.e., an organization which implements programmatic functions, the BRO has had a degree of autonomy in its administrative and financial matters. The availability of financial resources over the years has been substantial and incremental. At times there may have been less allocation of funds in the short-term, in relation to the estimates of the works planned for implementation but this, however, has to be viewed in the backdrop of an apparent disconnect between the formulation of annual plans of the BRO and its executing capability. Environmental constraints by way of local socio-political milieu-generated pressures and related governmental clearances have also occasionally militated against the BRO achieving its targets and security objectives. The above referred Parliamentary Standing Committee had observed that in 2010 the BRO was faced with a situation wherein, within its present capability, the planned quantum of GS works was beyond its executing capability. The present situation does seem to be much different. In this backdrop, there is a view in the higher echelons of Ministry of Defence that the BRO chief engineers of their projects take on the responsibility for executing other than GS works, i.e., works for other state governments, civil departments but only with prior administrative approval of the Centre. This will prevent the BRO from spreading its resources too thin and at the expense of the GS works/India-China Border Roads (ICBRs).
Without a focused approach and judicious prioritization, the BRO may not be able to achieve its Long-Term Perspective Plan-1, which involves the construction of 61 ICBRs (based on the India-China Study Group Report) involving a total road length of 3394 kilometers estimated at more than Rs 6500 crores. This would be to the detriment of India`s security, particularly when a remote county, Medog in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) has been recently connected by an all-weather road with Zhamag, a place bordering Arunachal Pradesh, with much fanfare.4
Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.
December 9, 2013
D S Kunwar, TNN
DEHRADUN: Uttarakhand chief minister Vijay Bahuguna on Saturday expressed dissatisfaction over Border Road Organization’s (BRO) inability to complete reconstruction and repair work on the Uttarkashi-Gangotri, Uttarkashi-Yamnotri and Gaurikund-Kedarnath highways within the timeframe it was given.
“I am completely unhappy over the way BRO has been doing its job,” he said. This comes nearly six months after flash floods hit the state causing extensive damage to crucial highways in Rudraprayag, Chamoli and Uttarkashi districts.
“I am sure the central government will consider our request keeping in view difficulties being faced by victims living in disaster struck areas in these districts for want of timely reconstruction of these roads,” additional chief secretary Rakesh Sharma said.
Bahuguna said as most of those who were rendered homeless by the disaster have declined to accept the state government’s offer to give them pre-fabricated houses.
Uttarakhand government will pay Rs 7 lakh as compensation to each family for to build their houses at earmarked ecologically safe areas. A senior IAS officer said most preferred to accept the compensation offer instead of pre-fabricated houses.
Bahuguna said the government has been paying Rs 3000 as monthly rent to each family till their houses are reconstructed. “I think this monthly rent for each affected family will considerably help them,” he said.
December 7, 2013
Indian Union government has asked to stop the ongoing border fencing work with Burma (Myanmar) across Manipur in northeast India.
The suspension order from the Union home ministry to the Border Road Organisation on the fencing work came following the allegation that it passes through the Indian land in many points.
The Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had already intervened on the matter and assured various political parties from Manipur that even ‘an inch of land in Indian territory would not be conceded to the neighbouring country’.
Mentionable is that a delegation of all political parties from Manipur under the leadership of the State chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh met the Indian Union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde on December 5, 2013 and expressed their concern that the Indo-Myanmar border fencing passes through the territory of Manipur in many places.
Attended by senior officials from the Union home ministry, Border Road Organisation, Surveyor General of India, Assam Rifles etc, the meeting also resolved to send a joint delegation comprising the concerned officials and Manipur political party leaders to the disputed locations for conducting a spot verification exercise.
The Manipur based newspaper Imphal Free Press has editorialized issues saying that ‘the Centre has reflected its seriousness on rectification of the fencing by its deeds over the last two days including the pledge from the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh on protecting every inch of land belonging to Manipur’.
“The direction from the Union government to the Border Road Organisation on Thursday to stop fencing works along the Myamarese border right away will calm a lot of unsettled nerves. We can make a derivation that the Centre has acknowledged that the present situation merits more facts digging and rummaging through old history and geography manuscripts and that the line of fencing is not as clear cut, contrary to its earlier assumptions,” added the editorial of Imphal Free Press, a popular English daily on December 6 issue.
It also pointed out that the Union government has ‘treated the issue with gravity’. Besides the officials of the Home ministry and the State team, the other representations at the talks were from the BRO, the SGI and the AR, which has been watching the 1624 kilometer long Indo-Myanmar border, narrated the editorial adding that ‘all the sides that participated at the decisive discussion on Thursday will be represented during the spot verification of the fencing work and disputed border pillars on December 7 & 8 as well’.
December 6, 2013
YASHODHARA DASGUPTA, ET Bureau
NEW DELHI: The government has decided to take back several road projects from the Border Roads Organisation(BRO) to reduce its workload and help it focus on its primary task of developing and maintaining ‘strategic roads’ that serve border areas.
Officials familiar with the development said the government is also considering setting up a new company or wing under the highways ministry for the development of national highways, which, too, are of strategic importance and can improve connectivity with neighbouring countries. This company or wing could be set up in the next 5-6 months, they said.
The decision to withdraw some projects from BRO was taken at the “highest level”, an official said, because the organisation has been struggling to develop roads and highways in its portfolio, many of which have not taken off for several years.
BRO was set up primarily to service the connectivity needs of the armed forces.
The highways ministry has in a joint exercise with the BRO already identified 2,940 km of road projects from its portfolio of 5,229 km that would be transferred to state Public Work Departments (PWDs) and the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), another official said.
This includes some road projects in Jammu and Kashmir, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Manipur, Tripura, Sikkim and Nagaland. BRO, however, has indicated that of the 2,940 km, it would like to retain 715 km for “operational necessity”. The move to transfer roads out of BRO has also been agreed to by the defence ministry.
Officials familiar with the development said more road projects would be pulled out of BRO and given to the new wing or company. “If this vertical is in place, we can develop many more stretches,” another official said. “Most of these roads are in difficult areas that require special technology or know-how, which state PWDs may not be able to do while NHAI is already stretched. For instance, high altitude highways that is being planned in states like Uttarakhand, so they are not affected by floods.”
The highways ministry will be taking a note to the Cabinet this month, which will seek to propose conversion of 7,000 km of roads in various states into highways. Of this, 2,000 km of roads along border areas have been identified for conversion while 5,000 km of state roads have been identified for the same, so that district headquarters can be connected to the national grids. Officials said roads like the Manali-Leh highway, which are under BRO but are yet to be developed adequately, are likely to be made part of this proposal.