Border Roads Organisation is ‘BRO’ not only to the Armed Forces
BRO has been at the forefront of adopting the latest technologies, which are both environment-friendly and cost-effective, and have resolved many construction problems, while facilitating speedy execution of projects. The organisation has not only constructed strategic infrastructure along India’s border areas but also created them at extremely high altitudes, in difficult climes, and in record time. BRO is truly living up to its motto ‘Shramen Sarvam Sadhyam’ which means ‘everything is possible through hard work’.

Lt Gen Rajeev Chaudhry, Director General, Border Roads Organisation, shares with S.A.Faridi & Maria R, the intensive and extensive projects being undertaken and completed successfully by the ‘karmyogis’ of the organization.

Undoubtedly, Border Roads Organisation is ‘BRO’ not only to the Armed Forces but also to the country and its people. What does it take to manage such a huge responsibility and what significance does it hold for the BRO?
Since its inception in 1960, BRO has played a leading role in infrastructure development in our country’s border areas. BRO has contributed immensely towards enhancing security preparedness and socio-economic development of the border areas. Today, we are a premier organization and regarded as a symbol of Nation building and National Integration, and in the last few years our role has become far more vibrant.

During the last six decades, BRO has constructed more than 60,647 km of roads, over 900 bridges, 19 airfields, 4 tunnels, and numerous roadside furniture and miscellaneous projects in remote areas of the country.

We are continuously working hard to ramp up infra development at critical places. In the last two years itself, we have completed and inaugurated 205 infrastructure projects constructed at a cost of Rs 5,126 cr in remote areas bordering our country. We have strived to live up to the expectations of the government, our security forces, and the people of our country; we have succeeded in our endeavours only because of our resilient and committed Karmyogis who work day and night amidst the vagaries of weather and in harsh terrains in very high altitude areas.

The success achieved hasn’t come easy; it is an outcome of a number of procedural reforms that we have done within the organisation. We have shortened the decision-making process by simplifying and streamlining our procedures, and we have regular interactions with the Chief Engineers of the projects, plus we have increased site visits. Moreover, timely approval of Annual Works Plan and the Annual Procurement Plan, delegation of financial powers, prioritising of work, and automation of our office functioning, have accelerated the pace of work significantly.

Border Roads Organisation is ‘BRO’ not only to the Armed ForcesSiyom Bridge over Siyom River in Arunachal Pradesh

What measures does BRO take during situations like wars or during tensions like the recent India-China face-off?
The Army and the BRO work in close coordination with each other. The Armed Forces are our prime users and during peace time, our main role is to develop and maintain the operational road infrastructure for the Armed Forces in the border areas. During war, we will develop and maintain roads to keep road communication open for our Armed Forces and we will undertake additional tasks contributing to the war effort, as laid down by the Government.

Most of our roads are operationally critical roads and the Army gives us their requirements based on their overall operational strategy. Most of our logistic systems are integrated with theirs and they also provide protection and support in the execution of our projects. In fact, our projects, which are spread all over the border areas, work in sync with the local army formations. Together, we strive to address any issues or concerns with respect to lines of communication and allied infrastructure.

Considering the prevailing situation at the LAC, BRO kept the crucial Zojila Axis open till 04 Jan 2022. This is the first time that the Axis was kept open till Jan, providing the much-needed connectivity to the Forces deployed in Ladakh. This is also the first time in history that the Zojila Pass has been opened for traffic on 19 March 2022, setting up an all-time record of the Pass being opened after just 73 days of its closure, against the traditional practice of April / May, and shrinking the time of closure of the Pass from 4-5 months to just 73 days.

In a similar manner, the Manali-Sarchu Axis was opened in record time on 26 March 2022 in FY 2021-22 - almost two months in advance - which is a new record. This brought down the closure period of this road from an average of 160-180 days (when the road used to be opened in May) to just over 117 days. All other major passes in the Himalayas were also either kept open throughout the year or opened much ahead of schedule, thereby enabling easier logistics build-up for the troops deployed ahead.

BRO has also taken on the additional responsibility of snow clearance of the Leh, Srinagar and Partapur airfield at Nubra Valley, besides which, all critical infrastructure projects were executed with great intensity during the conflict period. Our men worked with complete harmony with the Army formations and provided the desired operational support during the period.

Road construction at high altitudes and in treacherous terrains are technically, physically, and mentally challenging; please elaborate on the construction challenges of some of the prestigious projects completed under your stewardship.

Over the last six decades BRO has been engaged in the development of road infrastructure along the Northern and Western Border areas of the country. Our men work under extreme temperatures ranging from minus 30 degrees in Ladakh to over 45 degrees in Rajasthan. Every region where BRO operates offers a peculiar challenge, with a short working window to execute all the works. Our karmyogis with their experience have devised ways and means to combat these challenges.

In high altitude areas above 14,000-18,000 ft, the oxygen in the atmosphere goes down considerably and at these places we encounter up to 50% lesser oxygen than MSL. Combined with extremely low temperatures, the lack of oxygen takes a toll on the human body and our men suffer from frequent bouts of nose bleeds, high blood pressure, and high-altitude sickness, which becomes fatal at times. Even the machines are not left untouched, as the low oxygen in the atmosphere forces machines to operate with reduced efficiency.

In spite of all the odds, BRO is continuously working with the spirit of “We Will Either Find a Way or Make One”. We have made engineering marvels at unimaginable places; one such example is construction of Umling La pass at an altitude of 19,024 feet which forced us to be innovative. We employed a number of teams and equipment working in shifts to complete the road, which the entire Nation is proud of.

It is also pertinent to mention that roads across 10 of the top 13 highest passes in the World have been constructed and maintained by BRO. This is a reflection of the kind of challenges we take on.

With the effects of climate change becoming more visible, our projects in the North Eastern sector are facing a plethora of challenges. The area is receiving unprecedented rainfall, causing roads to be washed out and massive landslides creating the problem of destabilised mountain slopes. Such is the intensity of rainfall in the region that our major resources are consumed in keeping the road traffic going.

BRO has learnt to circumvent challenges and chalk out its own path. Even in the thick of the pandemic in 2020-2021, when the world came to a standstill, we continued working with the same intensity and completed some critical projects such as the Atal Tunnel which was inaugurated by the Hon’ble Prime Minister on 03 Oct 2020.

Border Roads Organisation is ‘BRO’ not only to the Armed ForcesZojila Opening

What is the significance of the Umling-La Pass and what challenges did BRO deal with during its construction?
Umling La is the world’s highest motorable road and has been awarded the Guinness World Record certificate. Located at a distance of 15 km from the LAC, it lies in the beautiful Indus Valley between Chisumle and Demchok villages in Ladakh. The 52-km Chisumle to Demchok tarmac road passes through the 19,024 feet high Umling La Pass and betters the previous record of a road in Bolivia, which connects volcano Uturuncu at 18,953 feet. The Umling La Pass Road is another landmark in resurgent India’s achievement as it has been constructed at an altitude higher than that of the Mount Everest Base Camps; the South Base Camp in Nepal is at an altitude of 17,598 ft, while the North Base Camp in Tibet is at 16,900 ft. The road is also much above the altitude of Siachen Glacier, which is at 17,700 ft, while the Khardung La Pass in Leh is at an altitude of 17,582 ft.

The major challenge in construction was the extreme temperature, high wind speeds, and low oxygen levels, due to which the efficiency of both men and machine was almost at 50% of their capabilities. However, our dedicated and committed karmyogis braved these conditions under the leadership of our junior leaders.

This road constructed by BRO has ameliorated the travelling woes of the people of Demchok Village who used to travel for three days to reach Leh for medical emergencies and for commerce; now they can reach Leh in approx three hours.

Border Roads Organisation is ‘BRO’ not only to the Armed Forces

What was your experience while working on major underground stretches/tunnel projects like the Sela Tunnel?
The prestigious 317.52 km Sela Tunnel Project located in the West Kameng District of Arunachal Pradesh is being executed on Road Balipara-Charduar-Tawang (B-C-T). It connects West Kameng, East Kameng and Tawang districts of Arunachal Pradesh to the rest of the country. Tunnel 1 is a 980-m long single tube tunnel, while Tunnel 2 is a 1555-m long ‘twin tube tunnel’ - it has one bi-lane tube for traffic movement and one escape tube for emergencies.

The foundation stone of the Sela Tunnel Project was laid by the Hon’ble PM Shri Narendra Modi in 2019. On 15 Jan 2021, after the first blast was conducted the excavation work on Tunnel 1 commenced. On 14 October 2021, Shri Rajnath Singh, Hon’ble RM carried out the final Breakthrough Blast of the Tunnel 2.

Approximately 5000 meters cumulative excavation work has been completed till date and the approach roads to the tunnels are being prepared, alongside the lining work which is in full swing, and nearing completion. Electrical and Mechanical works are in progress in an expeditious manner and work will be completed in stipulated time.

On completion, Sela Tunnel will be the “longest bi-lane road tunnel in the world at an altitude of above 13,000 ft”. This unique tunnel constructed using the latest New Austrian Tunnelling Method (NATM), is much below the snow line, allowing all-weather travel without the challenges of snow clearance.

Border Roads Organisation is ‘BRO’ not only to the Armed ForcesLt Gen Rajeev Chaudhry, VSM, DGBR presenting Momento to Hon’ble Raksha Mantri Shri Rajnath Singh during inauguration of 28 Infrastructure Projects on 03 Jan 2023

The tunnel will prove to be a boon for the people of Tawang as it will reduce travel time and ensure speedier movement across the Sela Pass. It will play a crucial role in the development of not just Arunachal Pradesh, but the entire North-East. In case of natural calamities and adverse weather conditions, it will be a vital link for evacuation of personnel. The Sela Tunnel project will go down in the BRO annals of history as one of the most difficult projects executed by the organisation in Eastern Sector.

There has been a remarkable surge in tunnelling projects; one will be surprised to know that in the last six decades BRO could complete only four tunnel projects. However, with renewed focus of the government on road development and the commitment of our karmyogis, BRO is now working on 11 tunnel projects of various lengths along our Western and Northern borders. Nine tunnels are in advance planning stage.

Here, I would also like to inform you that even our signature Atal Tunnel, Rohtang, has been certified by the World Book of Records London as the ‘World’s Longest Highway Tunnel above 10,000 Feet’ on 09 February 2022. It has also been awarded with the IBC Best Infrastructure Project Award on 28 Apr 2022, the TAI Tunnelling Project of the Year Award on 27 Jun 2022, and the ACECC Civil Engineering Project Award on 22 Sep 2022.

How does BRO ensures safety of workers at the construction sites, especially during bad weather conditions?
BRO Karmyogis continuously work in tough high-altitude terrains with adverse weather conditions and harsh environment. Staying and working at such inclement weather and altitude continuously has an adverse effect on the health of our men. However, motivation is the key to overcome such adversities. Keeping the troops and Casual Paid Labours (CPLs) motivated under difficult circumstances is always going to be challenging. We are, however, fortunate to have able and committed junior leaders at all places who are always at the forefront and who lead by example.

In addition, numerous initiatives have been undertaken by the organisation for upliftment of the living conditions of our troops and CPLs. They have been provided with comfortable and hygienic Prefabricated Shelters, Porta Cabins, Bio Toilets, Water Purifiers, Solar Lights, Super High-Altitude Clothing, and Recreational Facilities, which results in high motivation, increased productivity, and extended working period.

Border Roads Organisation is ‘BRO’ not only to the Armed ForcesPresenting Momento to Shri Narendra Modi Prime Minister by Lt Gen Rajeev Chaudhry, VSM in Presence of Shri Pushkar Singh Dhami, Chief Minister Uttarakhand, Lt Gen (Retd) Gurmit Singh, Governor Uttarakhand

We have also provided the troops and CPLs with helmets and harness for safety at work sites, along with jackets, gloves, and boots. There are standard operating procedures concerning safety and security at worksite which are followed in letter and spirit. We also conduct regular medical camps and vaccination drives; 100% of our CPLs are vaccinated against Covid-19.

Generally, BRO troops operate in remote areas of the country where mobile coverage is sparse. Consequently, troops are unable to remain in touch with their family. To resolve the problem, we’ve provided adequate satellite phones at all remote locations for individuals to keep in touch with their near and dear ones, which is a big moral boosting factor.

In fact, we recently made functional three Telemedicine nodes at additional Military Inspection Rooms located at remote and difficult project locations. One such node has been established in Project Pushpak in Mizoram, one in Project Vijayak in Kargil, and one in Project Himank at Leh. These Telemedicine nodes are connected through VSAT to Service hospitals. In case of an untoward incident, this facility will provide prompt medical intervention for medical and surgical emergencies to our troops and CPLs through Telemedicine consultation with specialists at Service hospitals using SATCOM VSAT communication.

Border Roads Organisation is ‘BRO’ not only to the Armed Forces

What are the important sustainable design and construction features of the border roads?
BRO is alive to the contemporary issue of Climate Change and committed to embrace construction practices that are environment-friendly and sustainable. We have already undertaken certain measures in this direction. BRO is also aligned to the Government’s vision of creating “Wealth through Waste”.

Safe disposal of waste plastic has been a very serious environmental problem around the globe; being a non-bio degradable material, it does not decay over time, and even if dumped in landfills it can pollute ground water and harm animals due to seepage and unsuspected grazing on landfills. The best method is to recycle plastic waste. BRO has been extensively using waste plastic in construction of bituminous roads, not only in India but also in Bhutan. This process has been seen to also enhance the quality of the riding surface.

Border Roads Organisation is ‘BRO’ not only to the Armed Forces

We have also constructed a pilot road stretch along Road Joram-Koloriang in Arunachal Pradesh using steel slag which can withstand heavy rains and adverse climatic conditions. A Multi-Disciplinary Expert Group (MDEG) has been constituted to undertake trials with the help of CSIR-CRRI on this road under Project Arunank in Arunachal Pradesh. On successful trials of this technology, BRO will work out a long-term logistic arrangement for construction of steel slag roads in strategic areas.

The steel slag is also an eco-friendly and economical construction material; it is 30% more economical than coarse and fine aggregates and has 3-4 times higher strength vis-à-vis the existing resources, and offers a sustainable solution to infrastructure development. The success of such construction holds a huge potential to reduce carbon footprints and the ever-rising demand of aggregates. This initiative taken by BRO has been lauded by the Hon’ble Prime Minister.

Border Roads Organisation is ‘BRO’ not only to the Armed ForcesGeo Cell Laying on Sasoma Saser La Road

In October 2022, BRO constructed a “Carbon Neutral Habitat” in the Union Territory of Ladakh (Ladakh is slated to become the first carbon neutral UT of India). The aim of this construction is to provide dignified and suitable habitats with better health parameters due to lower risk of cold injuries, better hygiene and sanitation to the Karmyogis in Ladakh, resulting in greater productivity and work satisfaction.

BRO’s first Carbon Neutral Habitat at Hanle was inaugurated by the Hon’ble Raksha Mantri on 28 Oct 2022. This Habitat is entirely powered by renewable solar and wind energy and it will also incorporate innovative passive solar heating which mitigates the harsh cold climate of Ladakh. Constructed with a total cost of Rs 4.95 cr, this net carbon neutral habitat will save fossil fuels worth Rs 79 lakhs annually, resulting in major savings, and the entire cost of construction will be recovered over the next 12 years.

Border Roads Organisation is ‘BRO’ not only to the Armed ForcesUse of Geo Cell at Damchu-Haa Link Road

How does BRO along with its partners ensure use of the latest construction technologies and methodologies in its projects?
In recent times, the road infrastructure sector has witnessed a huge growth in the country, which has resulted in faster and multi-fold socio-economic development in the region. This has become possible due to the infusion of latest technologies in the field of construction. These techniques are proving beneficial, productive, and time saving, with their consistent focus on sustainable development.

We must remember that what may seem to be very easy to implement in the plains, becomes extremely challenging in mountains. But then, overcoming challenges is what we at BRO are best at. There has been a surge in construction of roads, bridges, and tunnels by BRO in recent years with the implementation of new and innovative technologies.

Certain new technologies adopted in BRO include induction of Modular Bridges, Micropiling under freezing conditions, use of Geo Cells, cement-treated bases, non-frost susceptible sub bases (NFSSB), slope stabilization using plenty of state-of-the-art techniques, snow erdox system and snow galleries for avalanche protection, inter-locking concrete block pavements, plastic-coated aggregates, cut & fit technology using precast concrete elements, white topping of roads in heavy rainfall areas, and more.

Border Roads Organisation is ‘BRO’ not only to the Armed ForcesCementatious base work on DSDBO road

BRO has been at the forefront of introducing latest technologies which are not only environment friendly but also cost effective. These innovations have resolved many construction problems that have facilitated speedy execution of the infra development works. Some of the important technologies include the following:
  • Cementitious Bases: BRO has started construction of pavements using cementitious base to reduce carbon footprints and the adverse impact of construction on the environment. Roads like the TCC-Tasking and Maza & Mandala-Debrabu-Naga GG in Arunachal Pradesh are being developed using this technology.
  • Hill Protection: Since BRO primarily works in ecologically sensitive areas, we are using various new technologies for slope stabilisation to mitigate landslides and protect hill slopes. This is being carried out by using various methods such as Drapery with Hill Side Gabion Wall, Dynamic Rockfall Barrier, Secured Drapery with Micro Piling & Rockfall Embankment, Geo Breast Wall, Biodegradable Coir reinforced with Gabion Wall, Rock & Bolt Method, and use of Geotextile Material with Erdox-Cruciform Horizontal Consolidation Units, Geo Synthetics, use of Pre-Stressed Cable Anchor, Reinforced Goemat, Hydro Seeding and Non-Woven Geo Textile, Geosynthetic Cementitious Composite Mat, and Geo-synthetic membrane.
  • Inter-locking Concrete Blocks: ILCBs are being laid over high-altitude mountain passes that experience heavy snowfall. They have facilitated seamless snow clearance operations using tracked earth movers, and have reduced damages to roads. This practice has exponentially brought down maintenance costs and ensured speedy clearance of roads in challenging areas, with minimum disruption to traffic. Further, laying of ILCBs has resulted in reduced wear and tear of equipment and vehicles, and enhanced riding quality of the roads.
  • Pre-cast Cut & Cover Technology: For the first time, BRO is using LITHELYARCH® Technology – a patented technology for precast Cut & Cover technology for construction of Cut & Cover tunnel in Ladakh.
  • White Topping Technology: This is a Portland Cement Concrete (PCC) overlay that is constructed on top of an existing bituminous road. This overlay acts as a long-term alternative for the rehabilitation or structural strengthening of roads. A pilot project of white topping for rehabilitation of pavement is underway on the Tuting–Bona Road under Project Brahmank in Arunachal Pradesh, which experiences heavy rainfall.
  • Route Guidance System: Earlier, during snow clearance over high mountain passes, BRO faced many difficulties and challenges in estimating the correct road alignment. The operator’s experience and several hit-and-trial methods were used to find the actual alignment. To overcome this, BRO is conducting several trials at Zojila Pass using the Route Guidance System, in which the GPS server fed with road alignment data is attached to the snow clearance equipment to obtain the precise location of the road. This will equip operators with greater safety while undertaking extremely risky snow clearance operations.
We have become innovative in our approach and are keeping pace with modern technology, for which we are interacting regularly with the academia and professionals in the road and highway construction domain. We also have our own R&D project at Shillong, which is addressing construction challenges at various places.

Border Roads Organisation is ‘BRO’ not only to the Armed Forces

Precast construction technology is gaining acceptance in sectors like real estate, metro rails, flyovers, tunnel lining etc due to advantages like speed of construction, economy, durability, and high quality. Have you considered its suitability for road construction at border and hilly areas?
BRO worksites are located alongside the most difficult and harsh terrains of the world. These areas typically have a very limited working season and completion of road projects in a time-bound manner is a huge challenge. To overcome these challenges, BRO has already started incorporating precast members in road construction.

Just like any other construction using the precast construction method, we are able to precast all elements of the road geometry in a casting yard under ideal quality environment, while the formation cutting of roads is being done as a parallel activity. These precast members once prepared in the yard are later assembled along the road. With this technique, sequential construction is replaced with parallel construction activity to shorten the overall project duration.

While a lot of work has been done on the precast culverts, pavements, reinforced earth walls etc, taking a comprehensive approach for having all the pre-cast elements of a road was a pioneering step taken by BRO when it executed a pilot project on the Along-Yingkiong Road in Arunachal Pradesh. Here, all the precast elements (protective structures, culverts, drains and pavements) were incorporated. Similarly, Project Himank in Ladakh has also adopted construction of precast box culverts, which has been found to be extremely useful in speeding up construction and averting/reducing disruptions to traffic along its roads. Such culverts can be casted even in the winter months under suitable conditions when no work is possible at site.

Border Roads Organisation is ‘BRO’ not only to the Armed ForcesYongphulla Airfield

What motivates BRO to keep going and working on one challenging project after another, breaking its own records?
We are fortunate to have motivated leaders and committed men who are on a mission to improve the road infrastructure in our border areas and contribute their bit to Nation Building. Our core values and work ethics haven’t changed much since our inception, and the drive and determination of our Karmyogis also remain the same. Though I dare say, we are a lot more confident, as with the passage of time we have gained a lot of experience and developed unmatched expertise in construction works, especially in remote and high-altitude areas. We have also changed our approach with the changing work environment; and embraced new technologies and modernisation, and have innovatively applied them to optimise the working potential of both man and machine.

Even in the HR domain, Women officers, since the year 2021, have assumed important command assignments; this change in mindset has empowered our women staff to perform true to their potential. Incidentally, soon we will have a woman officer commanding a Task Force in Arunachal Pradesh.

We have also been very transparent in our procurement methods; I would like to mention our emphasis and extensive exploitation of the GeM platform so much so that we were awarded the “Gold Standard Certification” in 2021-2022.

Border Roads Organisation is ‘BRO’ not only to the Armed ForcesParo Airfield

What are the operations and services being offered by BRO to our neighbouring countries?
Project Dantak has contributed immensely towards infrastructure development in Bhutan with many firsts to its credit. We have constructed over 1600 km of roads and over 1800 meters of major bridges. The only International Airport of Bhutan at Paro was constructed by Dantak. Other firsts include construction of Yongphula Domestic Airport, Shrubtse High School, a 60-bed hospital in Dewathang, the Bhutan Broadcasting Station, telephone exchanges, and microwave links.

In 2022, Dantak completed two projects and commenced three new projects in the Kingdom of Bhutan. As on date, BRO Project Dantak is maintaining the East & West Highways as well as the roads leading to Paro International Airport.

Border Roads Organisation is ‘BRO’ not only to the Armed ForcesFormation cutting on Confluence-Haa Road

Year on year, BRO Project Dantak keeps adding more infrastructure development projects in the country and infusing new technologies. In 2022, Dantak signed a MoU with a PSU, Green Bhutan Corporation, under the aegis of Department of Roads. The MoU paves the way for probably the first green solution to the slope stabilization process in BRO and also in Bhutan. In this, a variety of deep-rooted plants are being planted in conjunction with protective works to arrive at a highly reasonable and green initiative to address the perpetual landslide issue in Bhutan.

What advice would you like to give to young professionals in the field of construction?
Through your platform, I would like to encourage the youth to join us and participate in the development of the Nation. This profession will provide the young and exuberant civil engineers and diploma holders an unmatched opportunity to hone their technical skills, and be a part of prestigious construction projects and gain first-hand experience in the complex and varied field of engineering projects.

Border Roads Organisation is ‘BRO’ not only to the Armed ForcesFacilitation of BRO Women officers by Delhi Commission for Women

With the incorporation of new technology, the entire landscape of engineering design and its implementation on-ground has advanced to a new level. Our work at BRO will not only provide job satisfaction but also see one’s efforts change the landscape in the remote regions, providing joy to the numerous villagers. More importantly, you will be a proud contributor to the transformation of India to a progressive and developed country. I would also like to call the academia and the construction industry to partner with us and become a joint companion in the development of our country. Jai Hind. Jai BRO.
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