Taking a cue from China, which is investing heavily in infrastructure along the Sino-India border, India is also priming the pump for improving road connectivity in some of the most inhospitable parts of the Northeast.
Over the next seven years, the government will spend Rs 12,123 crore, under the SARDP (Special Accelerated Road Development Project), to construct 7,603 kms of road in the northeastern region.
Bulk of these roads will be constructed by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), which already has its hands full with projects in hostile and difficult environment not just in India but also in countries like Afghanistan, Myanmar and Bhutan.
Talking to reporters after chairing a board meeting of the BRO on Monday, M.M. Pallam Raju, minister of state for defence, called upon the private sector to step forward and take up some of the challenging projects. Pallam Raju said, “The BRO is building roads in areas where private players are not willing to step in.
"The organisation has its kitty full with projects in the Northeast, naxal areas and Jammu and Kashmir. It is constructing 25-30 per cent additional roads every year.”
The first phase of the SARDP, expected to be completed by 2009, will entail building 492 kms of road at a cost of Rs 1,122 crore. The remaining roads will be constructed by 2013 in the second phase which has a financial outlay of Rs 11,000 crore.
Pallam Raju said building infrastructure on the Indian side was a far greater challenge than providing road connectivity inside Chinese territory due to the terrain factor.
He explained, “They are creating infrastructure on a plateau, while we have to cut into mountains and battle inhospitable terrain. We are working towards providing more modern equipment to the BRO.”
BRO director general Lieutenant General K.S. Rao told HT that the SARDP was one of the biggest projects to be undertaken by the BRO, which currently has a manpower of 33,948 -- far less than the desired number. But a September 2006 Cabinet decision has allowed the BRO to revert back to its original manpower, as it was in the year 2002.
Defence secretary Shekhar Dutt said the manpower had been cut in keeping with the government’s downsizing efforts, but now the BRO would be raising its force levels to 42,646 personnel within three years. The BRO played a vital role in reconstruction in the aftermath of the tsunami and the October 8 earthquake in Kashmir.
The BRO has also just completed the restoration of the Aini airbase, near Tajikistan’s capital Dushanbe, as part of an initiative to improve ties between the two countries.
It has re-laid the runway and constructed hangars at the airbase, which had been lying unutilised for a few years. Dutt said the restoration work was initially contracted to some other agency but the BRO had to step in after the agency pulled out.
The BRO has extended the date of completion of the Zaranj-Dilaram highway in Afghanistan to 2008 as its personnel cannot work night shifts due to security considerations.
Also, the proposed 217-km road passed through drug cultivation belt and there’s stiff resistance from the locals.