India has built 2,088 kilometer of roads in areas bordering China in the last five years with an expenditure of Rs 15,477 crore, the Narendra Modi government said on Monday (25 July).
In total, the government spent Rs 20,767 crore in constructing 3,595 km of border roads during the period that included those in areas along the frontiers with Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar, according to the details provided in Lok Sabha.
As per the details provided by Minister of State for Defence Ajay Bhatt, Rs 4,242.38 crore was spent to construct 1,336.09 km of road along the border with Pakistan, while an expenditure of Rs 882.52 crore was incurred to build 151.15 km road along the frontier with Myanmar in the last five years.
Bhatt said 19.25 kms of road was constructed along the border with Bangladesh at a cost of Rs 165.45 crore.
There has been a renewed focus on developing infrastructure along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China following a series of standoffs with China laong the LAC, including in eastern Ladakh.
The standoff in eastern Ladakh, which began sometime in the April-May 2020 period, continues at some friction points, including Hot Springs. Both sides have gradually enhanced their deployment by rushing in tens of thousands of soldiers as well as heavy weaponry.
As a result of a series of military and diplomatic talks, the two sides completed the disengagement process last year on the north and south banks of the Pangong lake and in the Galwan and Gogra area.
Each side currently has around 50,000 to 60,000 troops along the Line of Actual Control in the sensitive sector.
China has upgraded infrastructure at its bases close to the LAC, including dual-use airports, with the construction of hardened shelters for its fighter aircraft and increasing the length of their runways.
Over the last few months, China has built a bridge over Pangong Lake, in Indian territory under its occupation since 1958. According to reports, it plans to construct a new highway along the LAC with India.
While India has been building border roads faster than before for a few years now, these developments, including the multiple standoffs along the LAC, have induced urgency in the spending on border infrastructure.
In the 2022-23 budget, the government increased the capital outlay for the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) by 40 per cent to Rs 3,500 crore.
As its name suggests, the BRO, an agency under the Ministry of Defence, is responsible for the construction and maintenance of border roads and allied infrastructure such as bridges in India's 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 Covid-19 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.
More recently, the centre has notified amendments to environmental impact assessment rules, exempting highway projects related to defence and strategic importance within 100 km of the LAC or the border from the requirement of environmental clearance.
Reports say the government could soon set up a dedicated agency for the management of infrastructure along India's borders. Border Infrastructure Management Authority (BIMA) will be responsible for the development of road, rail, water, power and communications infrastructure along the borders, including the frontier with Tibet.
China is building new villages along the frontier in Tibet to assert its claims along the LAC. It has already developed 628 villages, some in territory claimed by India and Bhutan.
Apart from spending billions on infrastructure development in remote border areas of Tibet, China has used economic incentives, including annual subsidies, to get reluctant Tibetans to move to border villages. The population of border areas has grown by 10.5 per cent, Wu Yingjie, the Communist Party secretary for Tibet, revealed last year.
The Vibrant Villages Programme announced in the 2022-23 budget is a response to China's border consolidation project. The existing border development schemes are being converged under the programme, and their outcomes will be defined to allow better monitoring.
(With inputs from PTI)
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