Amid Tensions With China, ITBP To Deploy Specialised Engineering Wing For Construction Of Border Roads, Tracks

by Swarajya Staff - Nov 7, 2021 11:13 AM
Amid Tensions With China, ITBP To Deploy Specialised Engineering Wing For Construction Of Border Roads, TracksRoad construction in border areas. (Representative Image/@EvClimateChange/Twitter)
Snapshot
  • The ITBP, which guards some portions of the India-Tibet border, has been entrusted with the construction of 32 border roads cleared by the government under the second phase of the India-China Border Roads project and two of the 18-foot tracks to be built along the LAC.

The Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) has decided to deploy its specialised engineering wing for the construction of roads and tracks along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the Times of India has reported.

The deployment of the ITBP's construction wing, aimed at speeding up infrastructure development along the border with China, comes at a time when the two sides are locked in a standoff in eastern Ladakh and tensions are beginning to rise in the eastern sector in Arunachal.

The ITBP, which guards some portions of the India-Tibet border, has been entrusted with the construction of 32 border roads cleared by the government under the second phase of the India-China Border Roads project and two of the 18-foot tracks to be built along the LAC.

The India-China Border Roads project, approved by the China Study Group in the late 1990s, has suffered multiple delays. According to the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India, the project moved slowly under the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government.

In its report in 2017, the CAG revealed that only 15 of the 61 roads that the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) was entrusted with had been completed by the end of the deadline in 2012.

Recent changes in the BRO and the permissions required for construction in sensitive border areas have helped speed up the project.

The 2018 year-end review of the Ministry of Defence says that the “completed length of ICBRs is 2316.62 km”, which is 68 per cent of the total length of the 61 roads to be built by the BRO, and the year-end review for 2019 states that around “75 per cent road length has been black topped” by the organisation.

Despite Chinese aggression in eastern Ladakh and a raging pandemic, the BRO improved its performance between January and November 2020 over the same period in 2019.

The BRO, which was originally under the dual control of the Ministry of Road Transport and the Ministry of Defence, was brought under the full control of the Defence Ministry in 2015-16.

During the Doklam standoff in 2017, the government delegated more administrative and financial powers to BRO officers to cut down decision making time. According to reports, the financial powers of a Chief Engineer at BRO were increased tenfold from Rs 10 crore to Rs 100 crore and the powers of the Assistant Director General (Border Roads) were increased 15-fold from Rs 20 crore to Rs 300 crore.

Moreover, the government has proposed new amendments to the existing Forest Conservation Act. Under the proposed amendments, the agencies working on national security and border infrastructure projects may not require prior forest clearance from the Union government.

"Given the present scenario of obtaining approval for non-forestry use of forest land, many a time, strategic and security projects of national importance get delayed resulting in setback to development of such infrastructure at critical locations," the document put out by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change says.

"...such projects should be exempted from obtaining prior approval of Central Government under the provision of the Act and allow the States to permit non-forest use of forest land for implementation of such strategic and security projects that are to be completed in a given time frame," it adds.

The onerous requirements imposed by the FCA have in the past delayed critical border infrastructure projects, a fact that the Ministry of Defence has accepted and mentioned in its communications.

Responding to a question in Lok Sabha in July 2017, at the peak of the Doklam standoff with China, the then minister of state for defence, Dr Subhash Bhamre, had listed "delay in forest, wildlife, environment clearance" as one of the reasons for the slow progress in the construction of the India-China Border Roads project, under which India is building 73 roads along its norther border, from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh.

Earlier, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change had accorded general approval under Section (2) of the FCA 1980 for diversion of forest land for construction and widening of border roads in the areas falling within 100 km from the LAC with China.

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