Amidst LAC deployments, Parliamentary panel flags delays in border highway development

Vijay Mohan

Today News Online Service

Chandigarh, February 13

Amidst the intense focus on troop movements along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China in eastern Ladakh, a key Parliamentary panel has taken the government to task over delays in the construction of border roads and strategic bridges.

In a report tabled on February 12, the Standing Committee on Defence has revealed that to date, construction of 11 Indo-China border roads (ICBRs) — which were scheduled to be completed by the end of 2018-19 fiscal — only six roads have been made.

The standing committee also said only seven out of 20 bridges — that were supposed to be constructed by 2017 — are operational till now.

Of the said 11 roads, the six completed stretches include Nelong-Naga, Naga-Sonam, Tri Jn-Bheem Base-Dokala, Joshimath-Malari, Musapani-Ghastoli and Nacho-TCC. Works are continuing on Sumna-Rimkhim, Tato-Manigong-Tadagade, LGG-Mukto-Teli, Leh-Upsi-Sarchu and Tawaghat-Ghatibagarh roads, where the progress ranges between 64 per cent and 93 per cent.

Commenting on the action taken by the government on the observations and recommendations contained in its earlier report on ‘Provision of all-weather road connectivity under Border Roads Organisation (BRO) and other agencies up to international borders as well as strategic areas’, the committee has stressed that the BRO should take the matter with utmost priority and seriousness, especially keeping in view the present tense scenario at India and China border, and to overcome the hurdles in the direction of shortening the project completion time.

Development of border infrastructure has been a long-standing issue with recurring delays and cost overruns due to a host of issues affecting the construction activities. Border roads came into focus during the 10-month long stand-off between Indian and Chinese forces in Ladakh that began in April last year.

It was only this week that the disengagement process started, with some elements being pulled back from the LAC by both sides.

The Committee, in its earlier report of 2019, had recommended expeditious completion of the ICBR projects. There were 73 roads with a total length of 3,812 km, of which 61 ICBRs of 3,323.57 km was entrusted to the BRO.

The committee also found that of these 61 ICBRs, as many as 33 ICBRs have been completed, and connectivity has been achieved in 3,204.11 km of road length.

Based on the requirement of the Army, the revised planning for completion of the remaining 28 ICBRs was projected as 11 in 2019-20, nine in 2020-21, six in 2021-22 and two in 2022-23.

Of the 20 bridges in strategically important border areas that were to be completed between 2010 and 2017, 11 are in Arunachal Pradesh, five in Uttarakhand and four in Jammu and Kashmir.

Observing that the completed works include six in Arunachal and one in Uttarakhand, the Committee has sought the reasons for the delay in every bridge, along with the action taken by the Defence Ministry in the field of designing of the bridges and the basis on which the sites were chosen.

Obtaining forest and wildlife clearances, difficult terrain conditions, hard rock stretches, limited working period, paucity of construction material, and challenges posed by natural disasters such as flash flood and earthquakes, are among the reasons cited by the Defence Ministry for construction delays.

The Ministry has also stated that the design and execution of bridges involve complex processes, and factors considered during the planning stage get enhanced many times by adversity of terrain and nature.

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