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Tuesday , 25 January 2022

Not just building roads, but also connecting hearts

Lt Gen Rajeev Chaudhry, VSM, Director General, Border Roads Organisation

Lt Gen Rajeev Chaudhry, VSM, Director General, Border Roads Organisation, addressing the conference delegates on the opening day, invited the exhibitors to share their technology and products with BRO to make the roads much better than what they have been, all along.

Indian road construction in India got transformed under the leadership of Hon’ble Minister Nitin Gadkari. Taking an example from the leaf of South Korea, the way the country’s infrastructure was developed in the 1960s and 70s, making a huge difference to the economy; I think, we are in the same stage today with large infrastructure development taking place not only in the hinterland but also all along the country’s borders where the BRO works. Our people work in difficult conditions. The roads are made in high or super high altitude areas and we will make an endeavour to incorporate all these technologies under extremely difficult conditions in those areas.

More than 20% of the work in Ladakh itself is above 14,000ft. Very recently, we have created an engineering marvel at 19,024 feet, the world’s highest road at that altitude. This place is higher than two base camps of Mount Everest in the North in Tibet and to the South in Nepal. Even Siachen Glacier is lower than this road. Most of the ATR fly at this height, where the oxygen level is 40% and the atmospheric pressure is 0.45 bar. Working at these altitudes adversely affects the health of the workers, because it creates lot of physical difficulties and heart related problems. It also adversely affects the efficiency of machines as their capacity comes down to just 40% to 50%. This is compounded by a working window of only 3 to 4 months, restricted to the summers. So these are some of the challenges and our people have to face in such areas and incorporating new technologies which are seemingly easy to adopt in the plains becomes a herculean task in these areas.

BRO has been silently working for the last 61 years; we have been able to not only make roads for the armed forces but have also been able to sustain our population on the borders in projects which have now been declared as Bharatmala projects by our Hon’ble PM. We are also working to provide last mile connectivity to the population of the far-flung villages, that has never been connected to the mainstream.

I take an example of Huri Village in Arunachal Pradesh. Till two years ago, there were only seven houses with 49 people residing there, because most of the people had come down to the cities and towns of Arunachal looking for employment, education and health facilities. Last year, the BRO constructed a 200 feet bridge by airlifting all the components of the bridge by helicopter to this far flung village. This year we made a road there, connecting the village to its Tehsil and District HQ and there has been a remarkable change today with reverse migration taking place. Now there are 300 people living there; there is a school being opened and there are medical facilities. So that is the connect which the BRO is providing to the country men apart from making roads. Now a lot of the central government schemes are reaching these people.

When I went to Umling La in October, I spoke to the people of Demchock. The road connects Demchock and Chisumle villages. The people were very happy. They said that before this road came up, it took two and half days for people from Demchock to go to Hanle on horseback. Today, they take only three and half hours. We need to understand the difference it has made to the lives of those people; it’s a game changer for them. Today in the plains, in place of roads, we are making smart roads by infusing all the technology available to us. However, on the borders there are no roads, not even tracks; those are isolated places. Lahaul Spiti was cut-off for six months till Atal tunnel was made which is the longest tunnel in the world at the height of 10,000 ft or above. It is again an engineering marvel and today the people there have got access to all the medical facilities, education, and welfare schemes.

We are not just making roads, we are also using a lot of new technology. We made the road on Umling La at 19024 ft, and at these heights, when water crystallises at minus 40 degrees temperature, the soil heaves and damages the road. We have used non-frost susceptible sub-base for the first time at such high altitudes. Apart from this, we are using Geo-cells, Geo-webs and a lot of other means to stabilise the slopes on the fragile mountains in Arunachal, and Uttarakhand. In addition, we are also using plastic coated aggregates which make the roads impervious. The technology varies as per the requirements of the places where we construct roads. We have also connected the Southernmost panchayat, Laxmi Nagar in Great Nicobar island which was not connected till now. It is now connected to Shastri Nagar which is 52kms north through Galathia river by constructing a 216 mtrs crossing very recently.

BRO is using M50 blocks at Chang La Pass, which is at 17600 ft. Earlier there were major problems while clearing the snow with the upper crust of the road getting disturbed and damaged. This made us to explore the option of using M50 blocks and these blocks are being laid over a length of 12km on the vulnerable portions of the road over Chang La. Many such experiments are happening apart from experimentation with technology. We are incorporating smart light poles, green technology, smart lighting, and traffic control management.

I would like to request all the leaders from the highway construction industry and the traffic management and traffic control sector to come together and interact with us as there are ample opportunities on the borders for experimentation of the technology that you provide and the products that you make, so that we can make life better on the borders too. I want the industry to partner in our initiatives. If you have got ideas or products, please come to us, we will definitely experiment with your concepts as we want to make roads much better than what it has been all along.

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