The latest standoff between India & China on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) has brought focus on the Border Roads Organisation - BRO. One more significant event in which Hon’ble Prime Minister shall be dedicating to the nation an important infrastructure projects “Atal Tunnel” on Manali Leh Highway. This 9 km long tunnel shall reduce the distance by 46 KM and travel time to Leh significantly. Taking us one step closer to making Laddakh connectivity an all-weather one. Ladakh remains cut off from the rest of the country during winters when both routes - one from Srinagar and one from Manali - to Leh remains closed. The 9 Km long Atal Tunnel, Rohtang which was under construction for about a decade, picked up pace in 2018-19 once the formidable challenge of the 587 mtrs Seri Nallah Fault Zone was overcome. The tunnel has now been completed and will provide All Weather Connectivity to Lahaul & Spiti and shall also ensure rapid & early movement of troops & logistics to Leh during the current standoff with China.
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. recently during my interaction with top leadership of BRO, I have noticed a paradigm shift in work culture of this organisation. Since current Director General has taken over, BRO has seen major surge in outcomes delivered in last couple of years. This is evident from the fact that about 30% more works were executed this year compare to last year in spite of COVID - 19 restrictions. The budget & expenditure trend of BRO points in the direction of this extra ordinary and exponential outcomes delivered by the organisation. From a stagnant annual budget of about ₹ 4,000 Crores from 2009 - 15 the expenditure increased to ₹ 7,000 Crores in 2018 - 19 and ₹ 8,000 Crores in 2019 - 20. The BRO budget for FY 2020 - 21 is now pegged at ₹ 11,000 Crores.
The strategic focus of the present Govt of improving infrastructure along the Northern & Western borders has resulted in better connectivity in boarder 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 the International Borders and over four lakh people in 217 villages will have all weather connectivity. Along the line of Control (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 smooth & swift movement of armed forces when required. In Kashmir Valley while Govt is keen to ensure all round development, four laning of the Srinagar - Baramulla - Uri highway. The roads towards the LOC to places like Tangdhar, Keran, Gurez etc that are being upgraded and tunnels that are being planned across strategic passes, shall not only provide strategic connectivity but shall open up gates of opportunities for local population through connectivity.
The long term plan for all weather connectivity to Leh hinges upon construction of Z-morh & Zojila Tunnels on the Srinagar - Kargil - Leh highway. Work for which is already underway. The Ministry of Road Transport & Highways and BRO has jointly planned 3 more tunnels at Baralachla, Tanglingla & Lanchungla along the Manali - Sarchu - Leh highway. Though this shall mean huge expenditure and is an extremely time consuming exergue. BRO is also working on connecting Leh through the Zanskar Valley through construction of new road. This road joins Darcha on Manali - Leh highway with Nimu on Kargil Leh Highway via Padam & Niraq in the Zanskar Valley. It involves negotiating just one pass at Shinkunla and construction of just one tunnel will provide all weather connectivity to Leh. 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 Sumdo - Karzok - Kaito which involves construction of a tunnel at Taklingla. 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 upto China border. These are Harshil, Joshimath and Pithoragarh sectors. In Harshil sector, double lane road is complete for 316 km upto PDA which is just 16 km from Thagla pass on China border. In Joshimath sector, the roads to China border get bifurcated into two limbs. BRO has connected Mana pass and provided double lane road till Ghastoli. Both Niti pass and Rimkhim are connected. BRO has already connected Kailash-Mansarovar Yatra route upto Navidang and also the route to Adi Kailash Parbat. BRO has also been entrusted with 400 Km roads in Uttarakhand and 250 Km roads in Sikkim under the Bharatmala Project at a cost of over ₹ 9000 Crores. This will be a major step in upgrading infrastructure in border areas. In Sikkim, districts of North Sikkim and East Sikkim have boundary with China. In North Sikkim. double lane roads are being provided right upto Sino-India border under Bharatmala Pariyojna. In East Sikkim, BRO has completed roads upto 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 & tunnels designed for smooth flow of traffic. This road is being given all weather connectivity by BRO by constructing tunnels at Nechiphu and Sela. Sela tunnel project foundation stone was laid by Hon’ble Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi in February 2019 with completion date as February 2022. Tunnel is at a height of 10,000 feet under Sela Pass (13,800 feet). It will ensure all weather connectivity of Tawang from Guwahati. There will be two tunnels of 1790 meters and 475 meters. Both these tunnels will be ready by end of 2021.
In 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 improved infrastructure further facilitates deployment of Chinese missile bases and long-range bombers in Tibet. The only way to counter this is by way of enhancing our infrastructure in the region. Indo-China Border Road (ICBR) Project was launched to reduce our mobilisation timings and connect our forward localities. Accordingly 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 Beig 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 traverses through high altitude glaciated region totally devoid of habitation. It witnesses temperature range from (+)38oC in summers to (-)55oC in winters. In summers, melting of glaciers leads to huge quantities of ice debris in the rivers which further leads to formation of islands and change in direction of flow of water stream pushing the water channels towards the road side. Due to this, breaches in the road surface take place on account of scouring. Battling all the odds, BRO has constructed this road and now our armed forces will get maintained by land route. The travel time has reduced from erstwhile seven days to only one day. Casualty evacuation can take place in the hours of darkness as also during days of bad weather. In case of any untoward incident with our neighbour, the reserve troops can be inducted very quickly.
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, Dongkyala, Gorala, Chola, Nathula and Dokala have been connected. In Arunachal Pradesh, forward most localities of Kharsangla, Vasu Rock, Bumla, Chuna, Taksing, Lamang, Tadadege, Gelling, Kibithu and Dichu have been connected. Efficient and strategic infrastructure enhances capabilities of armed forces many fold. We must congratulate thousands of Boarder Road engineers for their commendable work in building this infrastructure in extreme weather and geographical conditions. The close coordination between various agencies of Government like the Ministry of Defence & Ministry of Road Transport & Highways has been seen never before resulting in stellar job of speeding up construction of roads. With recent push in Border Infrastructure by Hon’ble PM Modi lead this government and executed with equal zeal by Boarder Roads Organisation has provided the vital muscle in securing India’s borders. The result is for all to see, even our neighbours today are worried of this development needs no further saying.