Truly and most justifiably, India's Border Roads Organisation (BRO) is in the essential services list through the COVID-19 lockdown, with not a day’s rest, connecting to remote border areas in the crisis, true to their motto, ‘BRO creates, connects and cares’
Truly and most justifiably, India's Border Roads Organisation (BRO) is in the essential services list through the COVID-19 lockdown, with not a day’s rest, connecting to remote border areas in the crisis, true to their motto, ‘BRO creates, connects and cares’. Care means that it maintains the constructed bridge, road, installation to ensure its continuous serviceability, which gets affected owing to heavy snow, landslides, or floods.
A low-key organization, BRO re-opened the strategic Srinagar-Leh highway that connects Ladakh with the rest of India on April 11, 2020. About 18 oil tankers and other essential commodities were initially allowed to move towards Ladakh from Zojilla pass, a challenging process, which was managed despite fresh snowfall over the Zojila pass area.
The 425-km road was closed since December 2019 due to heavy snowfall at Zojila pass. Responding to directions from Divisional Commissioner Ladakh for emergent stockpiling of essential commodities in the Union Territory of Ladakh, BRO through their Project Beacon and Project Vijayak cleared fresh snow around Zojilla at the height of 11,500 feet and made the road motorable.
As the year saw heavy snowfall, breaking records of the last six decades, the show clearance operations were undertaken by project Beacon of BRO from Gagangir to zero point and the same was done by project Vijayak from Drass towards zero point.
During the nationwide lockdown the bridge at Daporijo over the Subansiri River in Arunachal Pradesh has been constructed by BRO, giving a boost to the strategic line of communication in Arunachal Pradesh, India’s vast and geo-strategically important Eastern-most State.
The bridge is a vital strategic link towards the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between India and China. All supplies, rations, construction material, and medicines pass over this bridge that had developed cracks which could have led to a major catastrophe like the one on July 26, 1992, when a passenger bus fell off the bridge leaving no survivors. With the intervention of DG, Border Roads, and Chief Engineer, Project Arunank, expeditious sanctions were obtained from the Defence Ministry and Arunachal Government. The difficult and dangerous launch was completed in record time while adhering to all COVID-19 precautions.
Work started for the construction of the bridge on March 17, 2020, by 23 BRTF (Border Roads Task Force). After 27 days, on April 14, 2020, the bridge was jacked down successfully and safely on the supports. It has been successfully upgraded from class 24 tons to class 40 tons thereby allowing heavier vehicles to pass, catering for not only the Army’s requirements but the future infrastructure development requirements of Upper Subansiri district. Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu inaugurated the bridge over a video conference and it was opened for traffic movement from April 20, 2020.
The formidable Rohtang Pass (13,500 feet above sea level) is one that gets snowbound during the winter and needs to be opened every year. BRO opened the Pass on April 25, 2020, more than three weeks earlier than scheduled and during the COVID-19 lockdown. This was done after a major snow clearing operation on the arterial road connecting Lahaul Valley with the rest of the country. In 2019, the pass was opened on May 18.
The Himachal Pradesh government had approached BRO to expedite the snow clearance to facilitate the return of farmers for starting cultivation and movement of essential supplies and to bring relief materials to Lahaul Valley in the wake of COVID-19.
BRO inducted hi-tech machinery from both Manali and Khoksar. Snow blizzards, freezing temperatures and frequent triggering of avalanches at Rahala Fall, Beas Nallah and Rani Nallah did delay the operations but the snow clearance teams kept on working relentlessly day and night, while adhering to all COVID-19 precautions, to provide relief to the residents of Lahaul valley.
The first convoy of about 150 vehicles carrying essential supplies and guided by BRO moved to Lahaul Valley on April 25, 2020. The news of Rohtang Pass being opened for traffic three weeks in advance as compared to the previous year brought relief amongst the local population. It will facilitate the Centre and State Governments to bring much-needed relief material and medical supplies for the local population. Also, the agriculture activities which are the backbone of the district can now recommence.
Snow clearance of the operation for the opening of the pass is carried out every year as it remains snowbound for almost six months i.e. from mid-November to mid-May. It was kept open till December 12, 2019. During winters, the complete valley remains dependent on the maintenance of essential supplies by air.
Apart from developing and maintaining road networks in India’s border areas, and also helping government in its efforts against COVID-19, all personnel of BRO has collectively contributed one day’s salary over and above a contribution of Rs. 10 million to the PM CARES Fund.
As on January 1, 2020, BRO has been working on 883 roads of length 27,404.18 km, out of which 352 roads of length 7,991.98 km are under maintenance only and the balance roads are under construction, improvement to double lane. BRO is also maintaining seven airfields besides snow clearance of 126 roads (4,800 km) to ensure the connectivity of border regions with the rest of the country.
(The writer is a strategic analyst and former Defence Ministry and Indian Army spokesperson. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)