· Timely completion of hilly lifeline laudable: Tashi
Beyond the Horizon
By Pradeep Kumar
Reacting to Thursday’s announcement of Union MoS for Defence Shripad Naik and BRO DG Lt. Gen. Harpal Singh that key road projects along the India-China border would be completed within the deadline, lawmaker Jambay Tashi welcomed the move as hill people face greatest problems for transportation of men and materials. His constituency Lumla spreads up to Zemithang and T Gonpa along China border that witnessed 1962 Chinese aggression.
Responding to questions on ongoing road works by Border Roads Organisation (BRO), he said that all those living in Himalayan states will be happiest ones on timely completion of border roads which serve as their lifeline. “Our people being very development conscious are always ready to extend all possible help in expediting any infrastructure development project,” he added.
“All pending Indo-China border roads and Rohtang tunnel project would be completed within the timeframe as committed by the BRO. No slippage will be permitted in these critical timelines,” Naik said while addressing concluding session of annual chief engineers’ conference at General Reserved Engineering Force (GREF) camp at Dighi near Pune.
“India needs to build strategic roads considering security needs along Indo-China border. I am aware that the BRO has certain challenges due to terrain, climate and other factors. But I am happy that it has overcome all challenges successfully and enhanced the pace of construction by adopting contemporary technologies and procedures,” he said.
The BRO’s objective is to complete 61 strategic road projects along the northern border with China spread across Arunachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Sikkim, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh by December 2022, army sources said.
“These projects are crucial for the Indian Army to strengthen its military infrastructure along the China border. The army has planned a field habitat for troops, deployment of permanent forces and improvement in military aviation and operational logistics infrastructure, including permanent accommodation for troops,” a senior army officer, who has served in the northern and NE sectors, he added.
A New Delhi report on 07.02.19 said: India has sharpened its focus on scaling up infrastructure along Indo-China border and set a target of three years to complete all strategic road projects along its northern frontiers, a top general.
The Sela Pass tunnel forms part of a strategic road project that will reduce travel time to Tawang, a sector where the Indian Army is heavily deployed. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had laid the tunnel’s foundation on February 9. The Project -12.04 kms which consist of two tunnels of 1790 and 475 meters – will be built by the BRO at an estimated cost of Rs. 687 crore.
However, DG Lt. Gen. Singh a day earlier had said that all 61 strategic roads assigned to it along the country’s northern border with China, spread across Arunachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Sikkim, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh will be complete by December 2022. Total length these roads is 3,417-km, of which 2,350-km has been completed.
Of the 61 ICBRs, 27 are in Arunachal Pradesh (1,788-km), five in Himachal Pradesh (117-km), 12 in J-K (1,093-km), three in Sikkim (56-km) and 14 in Uttarakhand (355-km).
“We have redeployed our task forces and moved the bulk of them from the hinterland to the northern borders to build strategic roads within three years. Of BRO’s 32,000-strong workforce, 67% is now deployed along the Chinese border,” Singh said.
The Sela Pass tunnel, announced by the GoI in the 2018 Budget, is part of Balipara-Charduar-Tawang road, one of the strategic projects along Indo-China border. The tunnel will cut down travel time to Tawang by at least two hours, improving border connectivity for the army.
Of the 61 roads assigned to it, BRO, which has finished work on 34, has been questioned by parliamentary panels over delays. “It is unfair to calculate progress by taking into account the number of roads completed. The length of the roads completed is the industry standard of measuring progress. We have completed almost 70% of the road length,” Singh said.
“If you also count tracks [distinct from black-top roads] that facilitate vehicular movement, we have covered 98% of the road length,” he said. Some key roads likely to be completed soon include a 35-km stretch road that will improve connectivity to Doklam, where Indian and Chinese soldiers were locked in a tense 73-day standoff in 2017. Singh said this road would be completed by March 2019.
The Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie road in Ladakh is expected to be completed by next year, he said. This road measures 250km.
Singh said India is aiming to match infrastructure on the Chinese side of the border by 2024-25. “Projects are being monitored by the highest levels of the government. We are course to be on a par with China on the infrastructure front,” he added.
Apart from the 61 roads being built by BRO, the CPWD is currently engaged in the construction of 12 strategic roads along the Indo-China border. The 73 roads measure a total of 4,643-km.
The government is also set to clear the construction of 44 more “strategically important roads” along Indo-China border in Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, according to the CPWD’s annual report for 2018-19. Building these roads is expected to cost around Rs 21,040 crore, the report says.
17 die annually in building Indo-China roads
However, building roads in treacherous and merciless terrain along the Indo-China border poses tough challenges from Mother Nature. In all 69 personnel – 21 GREF officers, men and 48 casual labourers – engaged in building roads had lost their lives during 2012 to 2016, over 17 men a year on average, according to a Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report.