Alarmed by the lack of progress on China border roads and lack of funds made available to the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence has come down harshly on the government, saying that “any cut made to the BRO would directly affect the security of the Nation”. It also told the defence ministry that “the matter may be taken up once again, if needed, at the highest level in the government”.
The standing committee, headed by BJP MP Major General (retd) BC Khanduri, was responding to the defence ministry’s plea that adequate funds are not being released to the BRO by the government, despite the defence minister personally taking up the case with the finance minister. The committee had been told only 21 of the 73 strategic Indo-China border roads have been completed so far. All these roads were to be completed by 2012.
The nineteenth report of the parliamentary standing committee noted that in FY 2014-15, BRO projected a demand of Rs 4,000 crore but the allocation made was Rs 3,223.49 crore, which was further reduced to Rs 2,819 crore at the final allotment stage. In FY 2015-16, BRO projected for an allocation of Rs 4,056 crore but the ministry again made a reduction and provided only Rs 3,030.57 crore. This year, at BE 2016-17 stage, BRO had projected a demand of Rs 5,044 crore but a cut of Rs 1,968.27 crore was made during allocation.
The defence ministry also told the committee that the defence minister, Manohar Parrikar had personally taken a case with the finance minister, Arun Jaitley for an additional grant of Rs 1,096 Crores for BRO in FY 2015-16. The finance minister intimated the defence minister that allotment could be reviewed on the basis of pace of execution of next financial year and additional provision, if required, shall be suitably provided. A subsequent case for Rs 1,096 crore submitted in the first batch of supplementary demand for grant by the defence ministry also did not elicit a favourable response from the finance ministry.
The defence ministry told the committee that it has taken up a case with the finance ministry “for providing budget to BRO without imposing a ceiling on RE/BE demand, as the construction of strategic roads are like acquisition for defence preparedness, therefore providing Defence Budget for meeting road infrastructure requirement of Indian Army should be considered on similar lines”.
Out of the 61 strategic India-China border roads of 3,417 km length entrusted to BRO, it has completed only 21 roads of 661.59 km length till now. While five cases of wild life clearance for these roads are pending with various agencies, work on two roads, Road Flag hill – Dokala and Road Thimbu-Mago- Chuna, is yet to commence.
All these roads were to be originally completed by 2012. As per BRO’s revised schedule, it will complete six roads by 2016, eight by 2017, 12 by 2018, eight by 2019, and eight roads by 2020.
The committee found that “progress of work on 12 roads in the state of Uttarakhand and 16 roads in Arunachal Pradesh is far from satisfactory”. It asked BRO “to explain the reasons for the “shortages” in meeting the targets”.
Moreover, on the problems faced by the army in raising the new China Strike Corps, the defence ministry told the committee that “the only issue with Mountain Strike Corps is of release of funds for the infrastructure development.” While the CCS sanction of Rs 64,000 crore for manpower had been approved, the ministry said that the case for Rs 28,000 crore for infrastructure development is yet to be approved.
A new Strike Corps for China border had been approved by the UPA government in 2013 and its raising has been going as per schedule. But the army is using its own reserves to raise the formations, which led the committee to note that “milking existing resources, which in some cases are not fully up to the authorisation, is suicidal”.