Within 5 years, India will leave China behind in border infrastructure


New Delhi: The Border Roads Organisation (BRO), since its inception in 1960, had been serving two masters which created considerable confusion in handling of projects.

The financial control was with the Surface Transport Ministry, but its tasks were defined by the Defence Ministry. Such dual control created problems in the smooth functioning of the organisation which led to inordinate delays.

BRO put under MoD: On 01 Jan 2015, a brilliant decision was taken by Modi Govt to put BRO under complete financial and administrative control of MoD to revive this ailing and beleaguered organisation.

Departmental and EPC Mode: BRO had been structured to undertake all its projects departmentally, which grossly limited its capacity to approximately Rs 3500 Cr per year, which was grossly inadequate. In 2018, it was decided that BRO could get projects executed through EPC (Engineering, Procurement and Construction) mode also in order to accelerate the pace of work. This was the second major step to optimise the organisational capacity. Through this revolutionary decision, BRO has risen up from an expenditure of Rs 3000 Cr per year to Rs 12600 Cr in just the last 10 years.

Streamlining of Processes: There has been constant improvement of procedures towards efficient functioning of BRO during last decade but major reforms happened when Raksha Mantri through his visionary approach, in February 2022, upgraded the Administrative Approval and Expenditure Sanctioning financial powers of executives at all levels so the time is not wasted in looking up to the next level for decisions.

Dignity and Social Security to CPLs: BRO employs approximately 90000 casual paid labourers (CPLs) for execution of its projects in most tough terrain and climatic conditions. Raksha Mantri, in Jan 2024, approved term insurance scheme for CPLs engaged by BRO, wherein Rs 10 Lakhs would be paid to the next of kin of the CPL in case he/she dies while working with BRO. He also introduced a groundbreaking policy in September 2023 for provision of funeral expenses and transfer of mortal remains of CPLs working for BRO. All these policy changes have restored the dignity of labourers working with BRO and provided much needed social security to them.

Infusion of New Technology: Post Galwan, BRO has put in extraordinary efforts through infusion of numerous new technologies to accelerate the pace of work. From planning, to contracting, to execution, the organisation has left the old mindset behind and adopted new methodology available.

Atmnirbharta: The BRO during the past few years has focussed on buying all its equipment and machines which are indigenously made. It also signed an MOU with GRSE for manufacture of 60 number Double Lane Class 70 modular bridges on 07 May 2023. These modular bridges are fast to construct and first of its kind in the country which would permit unhindered two way traffic. These not only come at a cost one third of the imported bridges with similar specifications but would allow all kinds of tanks, artillery guns and multi axle loaded trucks on these. About 30 such bridges have already been constructed at critical places along Northern borders.

Experimenting with GeM and Automation: BRO has led the way for other organisations to follow the use of GeM. It was awarded Silver Certificate for maximum Order Value in October 2021 as well as Gold Certificate for Timely Payments in October 2021 and Mar 2023. As translated in real terms, nearly 100% of all goods and services in BRO are being procured on GeM now, including purchase of steel and cement and all its machines and 90% of the payments to its contractors are made in nine days. This not only has saved approximately 12-14% of public money but also accelerated the infrastructure projects besides enhancing the quality.

Funding and Expenditure: The government has been extremely supportive with funding BRO for construction of strategic projects. From Rs 2500 Cr in 2021-22 to Rs 6500 Cr in 2024-25 for Army projects, there has been unprecedented increment of 160% in funding during last three years.

Transformation: As a result of so many steps taken by the Government to energise BRO, the organisation also responded positively towards its new found productive approach. From a meagre expenditure of Rs 3782 Cr in 2013-14 to a projected amount of Rs 15000 Cr in 2023-24, the consumption has grown to unimaginable four times in just 10 years. The same has translated into more and better roads, bridges, tunnels and airfields on our Northern borders, closing in the long prevailing gap with our adversary. During the last three years itself Raksha Mantri dedicated 330 projects costing approximately Rs 9000 Cr, created out of GS funding, to the Nation.

Last Mile Connectivity: The paradigm shift from the defensive mentality of the previous governments to the aggressive posturing of the current Government seems to be finally on track with massive infrastructural development all along the borders. Today, with present day last mile connectivity on our Northern Borders, not only can our soldiers reach any point of conflict much faster than yester years but such development has upgraded the infrastructure for our remote villages thus making our presence stronger closer to the borders.

Way Ahead: An exhaustive study done by BRO in Jun 2023, is already under final stages of consideration at MoD, which is likely to be implemented as soon as possible to facilitate shrinking the roadhead differential with China. With assured funding at the same incremental rate and more reforms, it is certain that within the next 5 years India would leave China behind in border infrastructure and strengthen the Security Matrix as well as our claim lines.

By Lt Gen Rajeev Chaudhry (Retd)

Lt Gen Rajeev Chaudhry (Retd), is former Director General Border Roads Organisation. He spearheaded the implementation of several strategic infrastructure projects during his tenure.

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