Border Road Organization: Role, Significance ,Issues

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The Border Road Organization has been in news in recent times for its successful completion of projects in border area infrastructure. The Darbbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie (DSDBO) road built by BRO is at the center of the current stand-off with China. It was built by BRO. BRO is an important part of India’s security and preparedness. So, it becomes important to study the organization.

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What is the Border Road Organization (BRO)?

  • The Border Road Organization is an infrastructure building organization working under the Ministry of Defence.
  • It develops and maintains road networks in India’s border areas and friendly neighboring countries.
  • It was conceptualized by Pt Nehru, the First Prime Minister of India. Formed in 1960, the BRO is engaged in developing means of communication in border areas.
  • The organization primarily meets the defense requirement towards infrastructure development of remote Border areas of North & North East states.
  • The infrastructure development includes Roads, Bridges, Highways, Airports, Tunnels, Buildings and other structures.
  • Apart from the strategic / defense requirement, the roads also cater for the socio-economic development of the nation. Border Roads Organization has contributed a lot to the socio-economic development of the North East region.

What is the role of BRO?

As discussed above BRO dons multiple hats while performing its duties. The border road infrastructure is of critical security importance. The BRO has the following roles to play.

Peacetime Role

  • During Peacetime, BRO builds and maintains the operational Road infrastructure of General staff in the Border Area.
  • While building the border infrastructure, the socio-economic development of the border states is a very important job that the BRO performs.
  • It has a very important role in disaster response during landslides, earthquakes in the border areas where BRO deploys its force in relief and rebuilding tasks.

Wartime Role

  • During wars, BRO works to develop and maintain roads in such a way that troop deployment is made easy in original sectors and Re-deployed sectors.
  • It executes additional tasks given by the government contributing the war efforts.
  • It has to work round-the-clock to maintain the lines of transport and engage in development of new lines or repair of existing roads that are damaged during war.

Why the border infrastructure is needed?

  • The requirement of raising BRO was felt during the fifties when it was found that the lofty Himalayas were no longer effective as a natural protective wall. Pak-sponsored marauders had already played havoc in Jammu and Kashmir in 1948.
  • During the China War in 1962, the paucity of motorable roads in the Himalayas has been responsible for delays in troop and war infrastructure deployment leading to defeat.
  • Lack of border infrastructure meant underdevelopment of the reason and significant deficiencies in the security realm.
  • Border infrastructure helps in the speedy troop movements during the times of wars or other emergencies.
  • A better border infrastructure is a guarantee of territorial integrity in the difficult terrain like the Himalayas, North-Eastern hilly region.
  • Border infrastructure is also important for the border population as it connects the deep border population to the mainland and provides them socio-economic avenues for improvements in living standards.

What is the significance of BRO?

  • BRO is a significant organization in the security matrix of Indian borders. It builds the communication infrastructure which are lifelines during wartime and peacetime.
  • The works of BRO has ensured the territorial integrity and sovereignty of India in border areas.
  • The Himalayan passes are very difficult to trace. The North-East of India is a very difficult terrain strategically. BRO has achieved significant success in building road infrastructure there.
  • BRO played a major role during operation Vijay. The Srinagar – Sonamarg – Kargil – Leh and Manali – Sarchu – Leh axes were opened well in advance facilitating the movement of armed forces. Many other operationally important airfields and road sectors were also opened and maintained for mobilization of troops and provision of stores.
  • India’s significant improvement measures in the Ladakh area has given India equal footing with the Chinese side. The ongoing standoff in Ladakh with China is due to the relative loss of advantage for China due to BRO’s developmental work.
  • During the Doklam Standoff, India’s slightly advantageous position in infrastructure in the region helped it to negotiate from the position of strength.
  • The strategic re-balancing in the border area specifically hinges on the BRO led projects that give our forces strategic depth in the difficult terrain.
  • The rising possibility of a two-front war, both in the difficult terrain makes BRO even more important.
  • Snow clearance continues to be one of the most unique tasks performed by BRO.
  • BRO has been also engaged in the road development that helps pilgrimage in Char Dham yatra and Kailash Man Sarovar Yatra.
  • BRO is also engaged in environment-friendly road building. The BRO has recently decided to use plastic waste to build roads along the India-China border.
  • Apart from the strategic role, BRO also contributes to the socio-economic development of the border areas, especially of North-East, which has remained underdeveloped due to inaccessibility.
  • The Planning Commission had entrusted several road infrastructure projects to the BRO in the North East, as part of PM’s package instituted for the development of many backward districts in the North East.
  • During the Corona-Pandemic, BRO opened the Rohtang pass 3 weeks in advance which helped in the movement of essential supplies from Ladakh to Lahaul Spiti. This helped the government in bringing much-needed relief and medical supply for the local population.

What are the significant projects completed or under process?

  • The center of the current standoff, the 255km long Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie (DSDBO) all-weather Road connects Ladakh to Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO), virtually at the base of Karakoram pass that separates China’s Xinjiang region from Ladakh.
  • The DBO hosts world’s highest Airstrip, originally built in 1962 but abandoned till recently.
  • Recently, the opening up of 484-meter road bridge, connecting Kassowal enclave — which falls between Ravi and the International Border with Pakistan near Dera Baba Nanak —for farmers ahead of schedule by Border Roads Organisation (BRO), so they can transport their paddy harvest to mandis.
  • The Daporijo Bridge across the Subansiri River in Arunachal Pradesh was recently completed. It will be an important means to ration, medicine, constructional material supply, and troops transit.
  • Two strategic bridges- one on Tawang Chhu river and another on Sukha Nallah- in Arunachal Pradesh were recently inaugurated.
  • BRO has spelled its plans to build 61 strategic roads along Pakistan and China Borders.

BRO and Overseas Relations

  • The BRO is an important cog in the wheel of India’s neighborhood first policy. BRO engages in infrastructure building in many neighboring countries like Afghanistan, Myanmar, Bhutan, and in the extended neighborhood like Tajikistan.
  • One of the important activities under BRO is the Zaranj-Delaram Highway in Afghanistan which is an important part of Chabahar port connectivity plans.

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What are the issues with the BRO?

  • The fundamental issue with BRO is that its slow speed of completion of critical projects. The DSDBO road itself took almost two decades to complete.
  • BRO argues that it suffers from the Paucity of Funds. The Finance Ministry does not provide according to the demand of the BRO.  The finance ministry, in turn, contends, that it imposes a ceiling on the allocation of budget based on the actual expenditure incurred during the last fiscal, actual expenditure in the current fiscal and as per the guidelines issued from time to time for austerity measures.
  • Before 2015, BRO blamed the dual control for its slow performance. But in 2015, The Ministry of Defence was given full control.
  • Experts argue that the BRO is given targets beyond its capacities. Often, it is handed with double the targets than its capacity.
  • The priorities of BRO are skewed and a lot of projects taken up by them for the state governments and other values which delay the strategic projects.
  • There is a huge shortage of equipment. BRO does not have the sanctioned amount of equipment for road building with it.
  • It also suffers from the manpower shortages. Here to, the existing strength lags behind sanctioned strength quite significantly.
  • While Army supplements the BRO in manpower, there are problems with the interoperability of troops and hierarchy issues within the officialdom.

Above is the 2016 data of the 19th report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence. Though somewhat old, it will be sufficient to understand the issues of the BRO.

What is the way forward?

  • The current standoff with China is an eyeopener for Indian strategic policymakers as it has brought India on the brink of war with China after 1975.
  • The strategic means of transport cannot be left incomplete for long now. It is important to build BRO’s capacities in order to complete the targeted projects.
  • The recent initiative of opening up to private sector participation in BRO contracts is a welcome step in speeding up the project completion and capacity building.
  • The budgetary support must be augmented with formation of a special strategic infrastructure Board entrusted with devising innovative avenues for generating funds.
  • The manpower demands must be provided with new recruitments and optimization measures on the lines of Shekatkar committee recommendations.
  • The equipment procurement must be speedily done through bringing tenders in which a wide supplier base could participate.
  • Increased use of state-of-the-art technology and IT infrastructure in the fast-changing era is important for BRO also.
  • The organizational structure needs rejig in the wake of hierarchy issues.

Conclusion

The BRO plays a vital role in the inaccessible border area. Its role in the security and development of border areas cannot be neglected for long. As India intends to strengthen itself and wants to play a greater role in regional and global affairs, it must be wary of traditional and new threats to its ambitions and its territorial integrity. For India to walk confidently in global diplomacy, it must be secure in its region. In this context, BRO becomes an important organization to look up to.

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