India rolls out policy to ensure dignity in death for Border Roads workers
The policy was formulated after defence minister Rajnath Singh, while visiting forward worksites, witnessed the difficult working conditions of the workers.
India on Sunday rolled out a new policy for tens of thousands of casual workers employed by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) to build infrastructure in the country’s farthest frontiers to give them dignity in death.
Defence minister Rajnath Singh approved the policy for the preservation and transportation of the mortal remains of ‘casual paid labourers’ to their native place while also raising funeral expenses from ₹1,000 to ₹10,000 for those whose last rites are performed at the worksite, the defence ministry said in a statement, bringing into focus the risky roles these workers fill in treacherous terrain.
The facility of preservation and transportation of mortal remains at government expense was thus far available only to BRO’s General Reserve Engineer Force (GREF) personnel.
BRO employs up to one lakh casual workers to build border infrastructure in areas stretching from Ladakh, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim to Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, officials aware of the matter said. These projects include roads, bridges, tunnels, airfields and helipads.
They work with BRO personnel in adverse climate and tough working conditions, which sometimes results in casualties, the statement said. “In case of their death, the burden of the transportation falls on the bereaved families. Due to lack of financial resources, the families of the deceased are unable to bear the airfare or even transportation cost by road in most conditions. A bereaved family often finds it extremely difficult to afford the funeral and other related expenditure.”
The defence minister, while visiting forward worksites, witnessed the difficult working conditions of these workers and directed BRO to come up with appropriate welfare measures, which will now go a long way in enabling the bereaved families to perform the last rites of their loved ones, it added.
Welfare measures in place for these workers in forward areas include portable cabins, prefabricated shelters, bio toilets, snow tents with polyurethane insulation panels, special winter clothing and rations for high altitude, healthcare facilities, training in emergency medical management and make-shift schools for their children, the officials said.
The 1,800 special guests, among the 25,000 people who attended the 77th Independence Day celebrations at Red Fort, included 50 BRO workers, again a recognition of their role.
India’s infrastructure push along its farthest frontiers, a firm and focussed response to China’s thrust on developing its border areas, has supported the military’s pursuit of robust deterrence against the neighbour with whom the country has been locked in a standoff in eastern Ladakh for more than three years.
The military’s readiness, among other things, depends on infrastructure in forward areas, a landscape dotted with towering mountains, valleys and rivers.
On September 12, Singh dedicated 90 projects to the country, executed by BRO at a cost of ₹2,941 crore to boost military mobility, logistics support for deployed forces, and movement of civilians in border areas. He remotely inaugurated 63 bridges, 22 roads, one tunnel, two airfields and two helipads from Jammu where he opened BRO’s 422-metre Devak bridge on Bishnah-Kaulpur-Phulpur road. He also virtually laid the foundation stone of the Nyoma airfield in Ladakh, located at a height of 13,300 feet and 23 km from the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
BRO, which is at the centre of the India’s border infrastructure push, has completed nearly 300 crucial projects during the last three years at a cost of ₹8,000 crore. India lags China in border infrastructure but the country is catching up fast on the back of speedy execution of strategic projects to support military operations, increased spending, and focussed adoption of technology and techniques to fill gaps that came into focus after the standoff with China began in May 2020.
BRO’s funding has jumped over the years to enable faster development of infrastructure. Its expenditure, which ranged from ₹3,305 crore per year to ₹4,670 crore per year during 2008-17, has climbed steadily in recent years and is projected to be around ₹15,000 crore in 2023-24, according to government data. The expenditure stood at ₹12,340 crore in 2022-23, ₹9,375 crore in 2021-22, ₹8,763 crore in 2020-21 and ₹7,737 crore in 2019-20.
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