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Building Road Infrastructure along the Line of Actual Control: Hurdles and Constraints

Narinder Gupta is on Deputation to Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile
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  • April 01, 2010

    Media reports have amply brought out China’s huge build-up of military and road infrastructure along the Line of Actual Control. Evidently this is a cause of great concern for India which lags behind considerably in building such infrastructure along its side of the border. A total of seventy three border roads have been envisaged by India, and the responsibility for constructing these roads is distributed among different road construction agencies including the Border Roads Organization, Central Public Works Department, and State Public Works Departments. However, only nine out of these 73 roads have been completed so far. The target date for completing all these roads is 2012. The pace of progress is too slow, and the target date appears impossible to meet. Under these circumstances, there is a need to look at various options for increasing the pace of construction, including removal of the hurdles that act as a hindrance at different stages of road construction, or alternately extending the time limit beyond 2012.

    As noted, the construction of the 73 envisaged roads is distributed among different agencies. This requires one point co-ordination to monitor progress and to decide the course of action. This can be done at the level of Border Roads Development Board, the Prime Minister’s Office, the Cabinet Secretariat or any other agency which is in a position to do the needful. Unless such an arrangement is put in place, there will always be a lack of co-ordination, thus causing delays in completing these strategically important roads.

    In addition, the construction agencies face various constraints during different stages of building these roads. One of the most important constraints presently faced in case of many roads is the mandatory requirement of obtaining forest clearance under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 before construction begins. Similarly, diversion of land for non-forest use that falls under Wildlife Sanctuaries/National Parks requires prior permission from the National Board for Wildlife as well as the Supreme Court. These requirements lead to time delays in many cases and construction becomes tardy. In many instances construction activity is almost a non-starter. These constraints not only lead to time overruns but also huge cost overruns. We cannot afford to ignore the fact that timely completion of these roads is something where compromise may have an adverse effect on strategic and operational requirements to meet eventualities from across the borders. Keeping this in view, the Border Roads Development Board in its meetings must perhaps invite all concerned parties and impress upon them the necessity of early clearances.

    During the construction of these roads which are mostly located at high altitude and in inaccessible areas, many other impediments are bound to arise. One such is transporting the construction equipment and materials to the work site, particularly to areas where these have to be airlifted. However, due to the limited availability of airlift capabilities, a significant amount of time is wasted thus delaying completion. Another problem faced by executing agencies is that good and reputed contractors may not be willing to undertake construction work in such areas. Consequently, many executing agencies have to undertake the work themselves which entirely depends on the extent of their available working capacity. This indicates the need for re-working priorities to ensure better mobilization in order to complete these roads according to the time schedule fixed for the purpose.

    Inadequate funding is also often quoted as a constraint by various agencies. However it is common knowledge that funding requirements are met through budgetary support by different ministries and the flow is regulated according to requirements on the ground. This varies from case to case and is based on Detailed Project Reports (DPR) and cost estimates of a road project to be undertaken. Therefore a DPR needs utmost care at the time of its preparation. A faulty and defective DPR can play havoc and delay the entire process. In fact it is one of the most crucial stages in project management. The problem may actually not be inadequate funding but the assessment made by the executing agency before initiating work. The timing of funding is also extremely important. These aspects seem to have been neglected to a large extent and need to be addressed under a single organizational and institutional entity irrespective of the agency or the ministry undertaking or overseeing the work. Otherwise, the completion of these roads by 2012 is unlikely to be achieved.