BRO builds roads where even goats do not dare

BRO builds roads where even goats do not dare

For 50 years it has been tirelessly battling swirling snow, heavy rains, scorching sun, desert storms and burning sands to build the lifeline of India's defence. Yet the Borders Roads Organisation (BRO) is not just a road construction agency as its name suggests but builds airfields and other infrastructure to give the armed forces strategic reach and depth in frontier areas and beyond.

"The areas are so difficult that even goats cannot dare to go there," BRO chief Lt. Gen. M.S. Badhani told IANS  in an interview as the BRO celebrates its golden jubilee Friday.

"We have constructed some 48,300 km of roads, 398 major permanent bridges of 36,000-metre length and 19 airfields in remote areas of the country," Badhani said, flaunting 50 years of "tireless" work "that includes road connectivity for our defence forces in all directions".

The army-controlled agency has reached out across India, from its western deserts to cold and icy Himalayan heights in the north and the northeast, and even in Bhutan, Myanmar, Afghanistan and Tajikistan.

The BRO was raised in 1960 for speedy development of the road network and infrastructure in areas where India shares its borders with China and Pakistan. But over the years it widened its scope of construction and development in other parts of the country, including Maoist territory in central India, where it has nearly completed National Highway 16 connecting Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra.

BRO says it has earned a "reputation of being the only road construction agency to maintain roads in difficult and inhospitable terrain".

In 1960, it started with just two projects, Vartak in the northeast and Beacon in the north of India. Under Vartak, the BRO has kept road communication trafficable in Arunachal Pradesh and Assam despite incessant rains and heavy landslides.

Conceived in 1961, project Beacon with its headquarters in Jammu and Kashmir's summer capital Srinagar has built and maintained road connectivity from Sonamarg in north Kashmir to far off Leh and Chushul bordering China.

The Jammu-Srinagar road, which remains vulnerable to rain and snow even now, was handed over to Beacon in 1965 and upgraded to a double lane. The project is also responsible for the 200-km stretch of the Leh-Manali road.

With a budget of over Rs.6,000 crore, the BRO is working on nearly 700 roads of 28,000-km length as well as seven airfields in border areas.

The force of nearly 36,000 men and women is also battling the odds - staff deficiency and lack of modern equipment. "We have a nearly 15 percent staff deficiency. The authorised strength is a little over 42,640," the BRO chief said.

He said the agency was also badly in need of high-lifting helicopters like MI-17 class for transporting men and material to difficult areas.

"The BRO is in need of helicopters of MI-17 class; right now the Indian Air Force (IAF) is very busy, so it is difficult to get its support. We are considering getting copters, from private bodies," Badhani said.