Updated: June 4, 2015 4:24:25 am
A major portion of a 255-km long strategic road on Ladakh’s border with China is being rebuilt by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) because it had been constructed on the Shyok riverbed, making it unfit for military use.
In 2011, a CVC-instructed Chief Technical Examiner (CTE) inquiry found that the Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie (DSDBO) had been laid on a flatter terrain and not in the mountains. The enquiry estimated that half the money spent in the Rs 320 crore project — mainly for cutting 14,900 cubic meters of mountain every km — had been misappropriated.
It is learnt that three quarters of the original road, which was monitored by the PMO and constructed between 2000 and 2012, has now been realigned and work on the new road will be completed by 2017. The road was originally supposed to be completed in 2012, but the deadline was later extended to 2014.
The construction of the road in or near the riverbed meant it was damaged every summer as melting snow from the upper reaches flooded the Shyok river. During summer months from June to October, the road remained closed for up to 94 days due to rise in the water level, generally at km 99 to 105.50, 106.6, 112, 121.50, 124.32, 130.00, 138.8, and km 148 to 162.
Lt General (retired) H S Panag, former Northern Army Commander, recalls that even in 2007-08, the road was used only during winter months when the Shyok river would freeze. Army officers who have recently travelled on the road up to Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) told The Indian Express that the road can still be used only in winter months.
Only 9 km from the Line of Actual Control with China in Aksai Chin, DBO is India’s northernmost built-up area lying in Sub Sector North (SSN) in army parlance. India has also been trying to develop the DBO airstrip — the Indian Air Force landed a C130J-30 Super Hercules aircraft at DBO in August 2013.
Following the CVC inquiry done by BRDB’s Chief Technical Examiner and directions of the Defence Minister, a Board of Officers was ordered by 753 Border Roads Task Force (BRTF).
The 753 BRTF, which constructed the road, comes under Leh-based Chief Engineer of Project Himank. In his opinion on the findings of the Board, then Chief Engineer of Himank, Brigadier M H Rizvi said that 162.3 km of the total constructed length of 210 km needed to be realigned, and reconstructed.
Brigadier Rizvi noted that construction of the road was not as per the RSTC — RSTC or Recce Survey and Trace Cutting fixes the alignment of the road and assesses the cost of any new road project. Instead of the RSTC, Brigadier Rizvi noted that the road followed the existing mule track to provide early connectivity, as it was a high priority road for the China Study Group (CSG) and was being monitored at PMO level. The road also suffers from incorrect siting of bridges at fording sites along the mule track.
According to Lt General Panag, the army has had limited inputs in deciding road alignment or construction as the CSG was directly handling it.
A former foreign secretary, who was a member of the CSG, told The Indian Express that their priority was to get the construction on that sector resume as quickly as possible. “Such an approach does not take into account the vulnerability of the alignment to flooding, storm surges and avalanches,” he said.
The irregularities in DSDBO road came to light well before the 2011 enquiry. The then Border Roads Development Board (BRDB) Secretary, Dr Subhash Sharma, wrote a DO letter to the DGBR, Lt General M C Badhani in April 2010 that DSDBO road was not motorable as it had been constructed with inferior specifications. In February 2012, Dr Sharma again wrote a DO letter to DGBR, Lt General Ravi Shankar, that DSDBO road was unsuitable even for light vehicle movement and he had received no report on corrective actions taken or investigations done on the irregularities.
Secretary, BRDB and DGBR did not respond to queries on phone, email and FAX from The Indian Express.
Discarding major portions of the road built between 2000 and 2011, the BRO has completed fresh realignment of the road this year. A new BRTF from Jammu, with two additional road construction companies, is being inducted to Ladakh to construct the DSDBO road starting this working season. The realigned road for Load Class 9 will include surfacing till the 125-km mark and is proposed to be completed by 2017.
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