Whatever has been achieved by BRO in 2022 and early 2023 is very substantial and has raised Beijing's ire much more. For India, it is imperative to continue the momentum of its long overdue building of strategic infrastructure, because a lot more needs to be done to match PLA’s buildup and deployment.
Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated 28 infrastructure projects of the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) during an event organised at Siyom Bridge on Along-Yinkiong Road in Arunachal Pradesh on January 03, 2023. This class 70 steel arch superstructure bridge is crucial for troops to reach the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the central part of Arunachal Pradesh, primarily the Tuting subdivision bordering China, or factually, 'Chinese-Occupied Tibet'.
The projects comprise 22 bridges, including the Siyom Bridge; three roads and three other projects in seven border states/Union territories of northern and northeastern India. Eight of these projects are in Ladakh; five in Arunachal Pradesh; four in Jammu & Kashmir; three each in Sikkim, Punjab and Uttarakhand and two in Rajasthan. In addition, three telemedicine nodes - two in Ladakh and one in Mizoram – were inaugurated.
Also in January, work began on the strategically important Chushul-Dungti-Fukche-Demchok road, spanning 135 kilometres in the Ladakh region.
Earlier, on October 28, 2022, the Defence Minister inaugurated 75 infrastructure projects built by BRO at a function organised at Shyok village on the Darbuk-Shyokh-Daulat Beg Oldie (DSDBO) road, Ladakh, These 75 projects include 45 bridges, 27 roads, two helipads and one carbon neutral habitat. 20 of these projects are in Jammu & Kashmir, 18 each in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh, five in Uttarakhand and 14 in other border states of Sikkim, West Bengal, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Rajasthan. One of the main highlights of the event was the onsite inauguration of the 120-metre-long Class 70 Shyok Setu Bridge on DSDBO Road at an altitude of 14,000 feet, which will facilitate the logistics movement of the Armed Forces. Notably, in 2021, a total of 100 bridges, roads, and tunnels constructed by BRO were inaugurated to bolster the border infrastructure and connectivity.
BRO has been mentioned by the Guinness World Record for constructing the highest motorable road in the world (19,024 feet) at Umlingla Pass in Ladakh. The 52-kilometre-long Chisumle to Demchok tarmac road, passing through the Umlingla Pass beats the previous record of a road in Bolivia, which connects volcano Uturuncu at 18,953 feet.
Yet another engineering marvel by the BRO, the strategically important Atal Tunnel, was officially certified as the ‘World’s Longest Highway Tunnel’ above 10,000 feet by the World Book of Records in February 2022. Nestled in the Pir Panjal Ranges of the Himalayas, the visionary project of the 9.02 km long Atal Tunnel runs under the ‘Rohtang Pass’(13,500 feet above sea level), which was constructed on the Manali – Leh Highway under extremely challenging conditions of freezing cold in difficult mountainous terrain. Further, the International Federation of Consulting Engineers commonly known as ‘FIDIC’ also shortlisted Atal Tunnel for its prestigious Project Awards 2022, among the 28 best infrastructure marvels in the world. On April 28, 2022, Atal Tunnel also received the ‘Best Infrastructure Project’ award from the Indian Building Congress (IBC) in New Delhi. More than thirty cutting-edge infrastructures were nominated for prestigious awards, and the strategic tunnel was named the Best Project for Excellence in the Built Environment in 2021 by the IBC Jury.
BRO has been reaffirming India’s commitment to ensure the progress of far-flung areas to fulfil the country's security needs. BRO is now poised for some blockbuster projects, like India’s first underwater road-cum-rail tunnel in Assam and the world’s highest tunnel at Shinku La Pass to connect Himachal Pradesh to Ladakh in the snowy Himalayas.
Carbon Neutral Habitat
BRO’s first-ever underwater road-cum-rail tunnels across the Brahmaputra River in Assam involves its strategic collaboration between Indian Railways and Road Transport Ministry and will amount to the construction of three parallel tunnels — two for road and one for rail.
Besides the bridge on the Siyom River on Along-Yinkiong Road in Arunachal Pradesh constructed in a period of eight months, a 45 metres span PSC Box Girder bridge on the Migging-Tuting Road in Arunachal Pradesh is also under construction by working in day and night shifts. Further, BRO has successfully constructed a 30.2 metres span Benadi Bridge in a record time of just 90 days and 181.2 metres span Pakka Kotha Bridge in a record time of just 212 days on Dyalchak-Ramkot Road in Jammu & Kashmir, executed entirely by BRO’s integral manpower/resources.
Construction of the 2.535 km long Sela and 0.5 km long Nechiphu Tunnels is in full swing. Once completed, the Sela Twin Tunnel will be one of the longest of tunnels in the World at an altitude of above 13000 ft. Construction of the 105 metre long tunnel on Sela-Chabrela Road in Arunachal is also being undertaken. Further, the construction of 2.79 km long Sungal Tunnel, 0.7 km long Naushera Tunnel, 1.1 Km long Bhimber Gali Tunnel, 0.26 km long Kandi Tunnel all on the Akhnoor-Poonch Road in UT of J&K and 0.92 Km long Cut & Cover Tunnel on DSDBO Road in UT of Ladakh are also going on.
Carbon Neutral Habitat is a complex wherein a significant amount of energy consumption is reduced, combined with the increased use of low-carbon energy sources to meet the remaining demand. This methodology has been initiated by BRO as a pilot project at various locations in Ladakh with the aim to provide dignified and suitable habitats with better health parameters due to the risk of cold injuries and better hygiene and sanitation to the local populace in Ladakh. BRO’s first Carbon Neutral Habitat at Hanle was one of those inaugurated by the defence minister in October 2022.
BRO is constructing a pilot road stretch in Arunachal Pradesh using steel slag which can withstand heavy rains and adverse climatic conditions. A multi-disciplinary expert group has been constituted to undertake trials with the help of CSIR-CRRI on Joram-Koloriang Road under BRO’s Project Arunank in Arunachal Pradesh.
For the first time, BRO kept the crucial Zojila axis open till 4 January 2022. providing connectivity to the forces deployed in Ladakh. This is also the first time in history that the Zojila Pass was opened for traffic on 19 March, setting up an all-time record of the pass being opened after just 73 days of its closure against traditional norms of April/May. In a similar manner, the Manali-Sarchu axis was opened in a record time frame in March almost two months in advance. This has brought down the closure period of this road from an average of 160-180 days when the road used to be opened in May to just over 117 days. All other major passes in the Himalayas were also either kept open throughout the year or opened much ahead of schedule, thereby enabling easier logistics build-up for the troops.
The Chinese Communist Party-PLA combo has often been driven to launch incursions driven by its anger at India’s infra progress along the LAC. It launched its second aggression on India in 2020, during the pandemic caused by its experimentation in biological warfare, owing to its great annoyance at India’s belated progress in strategic border areas infrastructure till 2019. Whatever has been achieved by BRO in 2022 and early 2023 is very substantial and has raised Beijing's ire much more. For India, it is imperative to continue the momentum of its long overdue building of strategic infrastructure, because a lot more needs to be done to match PLA’s buildup and deployment.
(The author, a strategic analyst, is a former spokesperson Defence Ministry and the Indian Army, Views are personal. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)