Only 27 “strategic roads” (963-km) of the 73 totalling 4,643-km identified for construction along the LAC over 15 years ago have been completed.
Confronted with the abysmal progress in building infrastructure for swifter mobility of troops and weapons along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the government has now approved greater delegation of administrative and financial powers to Border Roads Organisation (BRO) for faster execution of construction projects.
But first, the grim reality check: Only 27 “strategic roads” (963-km) of the 73 (totalling (4,643-km) identified for construction along the LAC over 15 years ago have been completed till now.
Moreover, the long-proposed construction of 14 “strategic railway lines” for the western and eastern fronts remains a mere pipedream as of now, even though good progress has been made in re-activating advanced landing grounds for IAF in both Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh.
China, in sharp contrast, has built an extensive network of railway lines, highways, metal-top roads, air bases, radars, logistics hubs and other
infrastructure in the Tibet Autonomous Region to sustain over 30 divisions (each with over 15,000 soldiers), including five to six “rapid reaction forces” there.
The People’s Liberation Army, however, would require a combat ratio of at least 9:1 (nine attackers for every one defender) if it really wants to take on Indian forces along the 4,057-km long LAC stretching from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh. Incidentally, the Indian Army has over a dozen divisions dedicated for the LAC, apart from several IAF airbases in the region.
But the lack of infrastructure along the LAC remains a big worry. The defence ministry on Sunday said it “expected” the pace of road construction in border areas to now “improve” due to the delegation of powers to the level of chief engineers and task force commanders in the BRO.
“The BRO would be able to complete ongoing/new projects in compressed timelines,” said an official. A chief engineer can now accord administrative approval of up to Rs 50 crore, additional director-general (ADGBR) up to Rs 75 crore and the DGBR up to Rs 100 crore for “both departmental and contractual mode of execution” of works.
Similarly, a chief engineer can now accept bids for contracts up to Rs 100 crore, while it will be Rs 300 crore for the ADGBR. “This will ensure the entire tendering process for a majority of the contracts will be completed at the chief engineer/ADGBR level itself,” he added.
A chief engineer will now also have powers up to Rs 2 crore to outsource consultancy services, while it will be Rs 5 crore for ADGBR, with DGBR having full powers beyond that. Moreover, the DGBR will now be able to procure indigenous or imported construction equipment of up to Rs 100 crore.
“The MoD has also approved policy guidelines for BRO to adopt the EPC (engineering, procurement, construction) mode of execution, under which it may engage big construction companies to take up road projects on a turnkey basis,” said the official.
All the 73 all-weather roads for the China front, with more east-west lateral links as well as better access routes to strategic peaks and valleys, were to be completed by 2012.
The government says the road construction pace will now pick up with the BRO undergoing a revamp under the defence ministry (it was earlier part of the road transport ministry), and being progressively equipped with more manpower, equipment and specialised machinery. “There are also faster clearances for land acquisition and environmental clearances now. Tunneling is also being considered for better road connectivity,” said an official.