Amid tensions along the border with China, the government has increased the capital outlay for the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) by 40 per cent to Rs 3,500 crore in the 2022-23 budget presented today.
The increase comes amid the standoff in eastern Ladakh. India had made unprecedented deployments along the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh to deter Chinese misadventures after the People's Liberation Army (LAC) sent thousands of soldiers and heavy equipment to the frontier with India in May 2020. Tensions between the two sides remain high since, and increased deployments have also been made in Arunachal, Himachal and Uttarakhand to prevent a Ladakh-like situation, where the Army was caught by surprise when China suddenly moved troops to the LAC.
The tensions in eastern Ladakh have highlighted the need for better infrastructure, including roads, in border areas.
Over the last few years, the BRO has significantly increased the pace of construction of roads in border areas. Major reforms, including the transfer of control of the organisation to the Defence Ministry, have helped the BRO improve the pace of construction of border roads.
Such changes have been accompanied by a sharp increase in the BRO’s budget over the last few years. While its annual budget between 2008 and 2016 varied from Rs 3,300 crore to Rs 4,600 crore, it reached Rs 8,050 crore in the financial year 2019-2020.
BRO's performance has improved consistently over the last few years. In 2020, despite Chinese aggression in eastern Ladakh and a raging pandemic, the BRO improved its performance over the last year. In the year 2018-19, work done by the BRO saw a jump of over 12 per cent over the previous financial year. In the year 2019-20, the agency had completed over 30 per cent more work than it did in the year 2018-19.
This impressive performance, however, is a recent phenomenon.
Before 2015, the BRO was associated more with delay than consistent improvement in performance. Much changed for it after 2015.
The BRO was under the dual control of the Ministry of Road Transport and the Ministry of Defence before 2015.
Under this arrangement, the agency’s tasks were set by the Ministry of Defence, but it depended on financing on the Ministry of Road Transport, reports say. This dual control proved to be an impediment to its smooth functioning. As a result, in 2015-16, the BRO was brought under the full control of the Defence Ministry.
During the Doklam standoff in 2017, the government delegated more administrative and financial powers to BRO officers to cut down decision-making time. For example, the financial powers of a Chief Engineer at BRO increased tenfold from Rs 10 crore to Rs 100 crore, and the powers of the Assistant Director General (Border Roads) rose fifteen-fold from Rs 20 crore to Rs 300 crore.
To cut down delays, the adoption of the Engineering Procurement Construction mode by the BRO was approved by the government in 2017, just a day after the standoff between India and China in Doklam ended.
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