On May 18, 2020 the government accepted and implemented three important recommendations of an expert committee on border road infrastructure headed by Lt General D B Shekatkar (Retd). This essentially means that the building up of border road infrastructure, which was ramped up after the Modi government coming to power, may reach even greater heights in the days to come.
The recommendation related to the introduction of modern construction plants, equipment and machinery has been implemented, as BRO has been delegated enhanced procurement powers from ₹7.5 crore to ₹100 crore for domestic and foreign procurements. The government has also accepted that road construction work beyond optimal capacity of Border Roads Organisation (BRO) should be outsourced.
The Strategic Shift
It is only post-2014 that the work towards building better road infrastructure along the border gained momentum. By that time, the Chinese on the other side of the line of actual control (LAC) were much ahead with the border area development.
Why did the previous government not achieve any progress in this direction? First, building roads in the high-altitude border areas needs not just resources but long-term perseverance and skilled force with determined leadership in the forefront. That was lacking during the Congress rule, as one sees the manner in which BRO struggled to get basic projects completed on time. Moreover, a general thinking that may also hindered this prospect as this article appeared on the website of ‘Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis’ back in 2012 had noted. It reads,
“One of the biggest obstacles to road-building in Arunachal Pradesh has been the Indian strategic mindset which viewed the lack of roads in the state as a defence mechanism to stop Chinese troop movement into India’s heartland if China did a repeat of 1962. This mindset continued to influence New Delhi’s policy towards Arunachal Pradesh right up to mid-2000.”
But the Modi government realised that this so-called strategic thinking may cost dearly to India and focused on building roads and other infrastructure along the border areas.
An article in The Diplomat back in October 2014 had noted the shift where it wrote,
“Given New Delhi’s historic reluctance to promote infrastructure development in Arunachal Pradesh, particularly under past Congress governments, China embarked on several construction and infrastructure projects on its side of the disputed border to assert a stronger administrative claim to the territory. India’s new government seems to see the value in this strategy and is putting considerable capital toward developing Arunachal Pradesh.”
The Rapid Progress in Border Road Construction
The Border Roads Organisation over the last five years has completed more than 75% road construction work along the border area which were held up for decades.
Exemplary Works by BRO
It goes without saying that building roads and any other transport conveyance means in the high-altitude rough terrains of North borders is nowhere comparable to building normal roads and bridges. The fact that BRO delivered them in a timebound manner underscores the determined efforts that have gone on behind the scenes. There are a number of roads and bridges that BRO completed against all odds. Just to have a sense of their mammoth effort that has gone through, two examples can be cited.
A bridge over river Shyok: This bridge connects Durbuk and Daulat Beg Oldie in Eastern Ladakh, thereby facilitates the people of Ladakh to reach many interior parts. It was named after Col Chewang Rinchen who is known as the “Lion of Ladakh” for his extraordinary acts of courage in defending Leh and Partapur sector from Pakistani aggression.
A bridge over Teesta: In March 2020, BRO opened up 360 feet long bailey suspension bridge over Teesta River in Munshithang near Chungthang town. It was built in a quick time after the steel bridge collapsed due to cloud burst in June 2019. It gave relief to the residents of Lachen in North Sikkim and also facilitates movement of logistics for the Armed Forces deployed in forward areas.
Security analyst Nitin Gokhale opines that the news over China’s disputed moves at the border should be understood in the context of India’s recent assertion in developing border areas. In any case, BRO has helped India to quickly cover the lost strategic grounds in the previous years, and the implementation of expert committee recommendations are expected to strengthen the ground further.