Friday, April 18, 2008

Road force shifts from Maoist zone

New Delhi, April 17: The Centre is pulling out its builder of military roads from special projects in Naxalite-influenced districts and deploying it on the borders, specifically for new connections on the frontier with China.

The Centre has decided to hand over 37 roads after completion to the National Highways Authority of India and/or state public works departments “in a phased manner in order to enable the BRO (Border Roads Organisation) to concentrate on completion of strategic roads in border areas”, defence minister A.K. Antony told Parliament today.

Antony has said during his visits to Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh that he had noted the fast pace at which China was building roads and railway tracks close to the border. In 2006, the cabinet committee on security had revised a policy of not rebuilding roads on the Chinese frontier.

Antony’s reply in Parliament did not specify the projects from which the BRO was withdrawing. However, a defence ministry source confirmed that among the projects from which the BRO was being withdrawn was a 300km stretch of National Highway 16 that passes through the “Red districts” of Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh.

The BRO’s Project Hirak for this road was created in 1998-99 and the outfit was pulled out of its primary task as a builder of frontier roads because of the militancy in the region. The project is officially slated for closure in 2010. Although the BRO is an outfit of the defence ministry, the project was monitored by the counter-Naxalite cell of the home ministry.

The BRO is drafted in for the special purpose of road building, its most sensitive project being in Afghanistan where two of its engineers were killed by a suspected Taliban suicide bomber last week.

The source said the BRO has completed 60 per cent of its task under Project Hirak that includes minor roads in Maharashtra — also in Naxalite-influenced districts — and also a road in the Nicobar Islands that runs for 36km from the tsunami-hit Campbell Bay.

Withdrawing the BRO from in-country projects, however, will not cover links under the Special Accelerated Road Development Programme. Most of the roads under this programme are in Assam, Arunachal and Nagaland.

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