In a shocking development, the Border Roads Organization (BRO), which has been entrusted with the responsibility of building strategic border roads, has reportedly laid off 1,000 causal workers, mostly Arunachalees.
This clearly indicates that New Delhi is yet to learn from the 1962 Chinese aggression when the Indian Army suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Red Army due to a lack of roads in the Tawang sector.
This again contradicts Defence Minister A.K. Antony's public commitment at Itanagar on February 20 last, that: "By and large, the border is peaceful, and at the same time, India is taking care of strengthening its capabilities to protect our national interest from any kind of challenges from any quarters. The Eastern border is safe, and, we will make it safer, and for that, whatever is needed to strengthen our security apparatus, we are taking care of it continuously, in a systematic manner."
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh may not be aware that the huge package, including the 158-km-long Joram-Koloriang Road in remote Kurung Kumey district bordering China, he had announced for the sensitive border state of Arunachal Pradesh on January 31, 2008, is in the doldrums with Project Arunank of the BRO laying off its workers, mostly locals for the last 15 days, as the road project worth Rs.200 crore, would be reportedly be given over to a private contractor.
The Direct Project Report (DPR) for the project submitted by the BRO for departmental execution was sanctioned in December 2011, with a rider for its execution through contract as decided by, it is reliably learnt, the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH), with a coterie allegedly serving as the bridge in the unholy nexus between the decision makers and people with vested interests.
As the road leads to the Sino-India border, will it not be a compromise of national security to allow a private agency to build the road along the international border? Would it not violate the Union Cabinet's decision not to award strategic border roads to a private agency?
Most interestingly, Minister of State for Defence M.M. Pallam Raju, after chairing the Border Roads Development Board (BRDB) meeting held for the first time in the state here on January 20, 2010, had announced that the Centre has earmarked Rs.1,000 crore for construction of border roads in Arunachal, which is 22 percent of the BRO's total budget for 2009-10.
Talking to media persons, Raju had said that the meeting was aimed at giving an accelerated thrust to border roads in the state.
Arunachal Pradesh has longest international border in the country, including 160 km with Bhutan, 1080 km with China and 440 km with Myanmar.
The Centre prioritized the development of infrastructure, in particular of roads and bridges, for connecting far-flung areas in all border states, particularly Arunachal Pradesh, as per the PM's vision of rapid economic development in the country by announcing a special package for Arunachal, he said.
Raju had disclosed that of the 5,061 km roads in the state, 2,764 km ongoing road projects are to be completed by 2012 by the BRO. Thus, the board discussed ways to tackle numerous challenges, like manpower, equipments, forest clearance and lifting of equipments, being faced by the BRO.
Projects Vartak, Udayak and Arunank are in progress in Arunachal Pradesh now. In all, 27 strategic and 2 SARDP (Special Accelerated Road Development Programme) roads, 11 major bridges (more than 100 meters each), including the ongoing work on the Dibang and Digaru Bridges on NH-52 are noteworthy, Raju had said, adding that the 76 km Bona-Gelling and 100 km Taliha-Tato roads have been taken up this year. He said there are seven projects involved in infrastructure development in the Northeast region.
Though the Indian Air Force has been assisting in airlifting, the board has decided to outsource that service too to expedite the process, he had said.
The BRO, in service since 1960, has constructed 46,780 km of roads in different parts of India so far, but now has only 42,646 personnel, a shortage of about 7,000 officials and staff in various categories, Raju had added.
Raju had also announced plans to recruit more engineers and constitute more border road task forces (BRTF), which led to the formation of the Brahmank for Arunachal. Will the engineers appointed be terminated and the huge equipments procured at the taxpayers' expense auctioned?
Raju frequents Arunachal Pradesh, the latest being to inaugurate the BRO's longest Bailey bridge, the 720-metre Digaru Bridge linking Lohit and Dibang Valley districts, on April 9. He is expected to visit again soon.
The BRDB has decided to procure six helicopters to overcome the shortage of airfreight, and to modernise its equipments, officials informed this editor on condition of anonymity.
It has also been decided to improve the service conditions of BRO personnel who have been working in hard areas against harsh conditions, BRO Director General Lt. Gen. M.C. Badhani has told the board, highly placed sources had informed this editor.
Had the road been allotted to the BRO in December last year, the progress by now would have been satisfactory by employing its huge manpower and equipments. Even a considerable number of heavy equipments are lined up heading towards the border areas, sources told this editor.
This would not have made the BRO engineers idle while drawing fat salaries and caused retrenchment of the local tribal people who have been working hard in developing the border road for the last few years. When the Government of Arunachal Pradesh is working hard to create employment opportunities, is this how Antony's promise of working for the greater welfare of the border people being fulfilled?
The BRO of late has been subjected to criticism for various reasons, particularly in the Tawang sector. There are laid down BRO rules for taking the guilty to task, which includes issuing show cause notices for not achieving targets, and even court-martialing corrupt officers. Why not apply the rules to restore its image, for it is a defence organization?
Tall claims are aplenty about the efficiency of engineers. There is the example of an engineer who was honoured with a gold medal for his engineering marvel in building a bridge in Itanagar, the state capital in the past, which collapsed within a few months. Is there any criterion for leveling charges, or for heaping praises?
With so many poor people losing their bread and butter - and with creating avoidable human and social problems - who will be responsible? Will it be those who have decided to deviate from the Union Cabinet's decision? (ANI)
Attn: News Editors/News Desks: The views expressed in the above article are those of Mr. Pradeep Kumar, Editor, Arunachal Front.