Border Roads Organisation – A Snapshot
Shramena Sarvam Sadhyam (“Everything is Achievable through Hard Work”) – this is the motto and the elevated ideal on which India’s Border Roads Organisation (BRO) was formed. The functioning of this organisation fully justifies this motto. Through the most difficult of terrain, through sensitive and tension-fraught areas, the BRO forges ahead to build roads and bridges, to boost connectivity, and to construct tunnels.
The BRO was set up on 7 May 1960, as the Border Roads Development Board. Currently, the organisation maintains operations in twenty-one states, one UT (Andaman and Nicobar Islands), and neighbouring countries such as Afghanistan, Bhutan, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka. The BRO operates and maintains over 32,885 kilometres of roads and about 12, 200 meters of permanent bridges through the country. By 2014 end, the BRO was engaged in the construction of some 218 roads in Uttarakhand and the North Eastern states. The BRO is currently headed by Lt General RM Mittal.
The BRO comprises both defence and civilian personnel. In its current form the BRO is the parent organisation containing both GREF (General Reserve Engineer Force) and BRBD. While the civilian personnel work alongside the Army personnel in the BRO, the two are governed by different regulations.
Contribution in Nation-building
The Border Roads Organization has played a very important role in both maintenance of security and in the development of border areas. Most of the development in the North Eastern states of India can be attributed to the relentless work done by the BRO. Socio economic development in the most inaccessible nooks and corners of our country are a result of the infrastructural work undertaken by the BRO.
Apart from its work in India, the BRO has undertaken work in numerous countries thus having contributed immensely towards maintaining friendly and diplomatic relations. The highly-skilled BRO personnel undertook and successfully completed construction of the Delaram-Zaranj Highway in Afghanistan in 2008. The Farkhor and Ayni air bases of Tajikistan were also restored and repaired by the BRO.
The BRO works in close association with the Indian Army in cases of natural disasters. It is the brave men of the BRO who were responsible for much of the reconstruction work undertaken as a result of the 2004 Tsunami in Tamil Nadu, the 2010 Ladakh flash floods and even during the 2014 Jammu and Kashmir Floods.
Lack of Funds Affect Performance
Over the past few years, the BRO has always been short of funds and the shortage often translated into underperformance in terms of delays and inadequate maintenance of border roads. By 2014 end, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) claimed that over the past 2 years, the gap between BRO’s requirements and funds allocated has reached about INR 110 crore.
Connectivity in border areas has been severely compromised with the BRO failing to meet the deadlines that have been set in about 73 strategic road projects close to the Sino-Indian border. The construction of these roads was sanctioned by a cabinet committee almost a decade ago – in 2006. In fact, in the Ladakh region alone, only 2 of the 14 roads slated to be built along the Chinese border have been constructed. The MoD had assigned the construction of over 3,500 kilometers of road along the Indo-Chinese border to the BRO and the deadline for the construction was 2012. By 2014 end, only about 500 kilometers of these have been constructed.
The importance of constructing these roads cannot be stressed enough. Apart from facilitating infrastructural development and connectivity for the civilian population in these regions, the border roads are a defence requirement as well. The ground troops in these areas take days to cover a distance of 300 – 400 kilometers due to the lack of roads and due to lack of maintenance of roads in difficult terrains. It is also important to remember that weather conditions in the Himalayan regions serviced by the BRO are extremely difficult. Waterfalls, landslides, storms, rain, hail, and even snow are regular features – these make the need for regular repairs imperative.
Serving Two Masters
On December 31, 2014, India’s Defence Minister, Manohar Parrikar announced that the Border Roads Organisation would be brought under the Ministry of Defence. Funds for the working of the organisation which were previously sourced from the Ministry of Transport and Highways will now come from the MoD.
The organisation’s underperformance essentially stems from the fact that while the Ministry of Transport was providing for the BRO’s workings, the tasks assigned to the organisation came from the MoD. A mismatch in estimates was inevitable. Last December Parrikar announced, “BRO will be brought fully under the Defence Ministry. There was lot of confusion because it was under two masters”.
Also in an effort to ease the burden on the BRO, the Defence Minister has announced that between 6000 & 7000 kilometres of non-sensitive roads in the border areas of India will be handed over to the National Highways Authority of India for maintenance and operations.
Give More to Get More
The Border Roads Organisation has put in much for the development of the nation and it may be quite candidly stated that many of our border nations owe their inclusion into mainstream India to its workings. The BRO’s contributions, however, remain largely unacknowledged. Despite employing lakhs of labourers each year across the country (mostly casual), the BRO is neither known quite widely nor allocated adequate funds. The organisation is seldom appreciated for weathering the terrible and extreme climates, for being among the first to step in and rebuild after natural disasters both small and big.
With the Ministry of Defence initiating a series of changes in the organization, with the import of new Swedish technology, the BRO is now best poised to grow into a pillar of strength and support in nation building activities. Question remains – are we ready to give these unsung heroes the boost they so deserve?