The possibility of any kind of conflict cannot be ruled out in today’s uncertain environment, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said on Tuesday as he listed the development of critical border infrastructure as a key priority to boost India’s overall military preparedness to confront any security challenge.
The defence minister was speaking after virtually dedicating to the nation 24 bridges and three roads, built by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) in four states and two union territories.
Of the 24 bridges, nine are in Jammu and Kashmir, five each in Ladakh and Himachal Pradesh, three in Uttarakhand and one each in Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.
Of the three roads, two are in Ladakh and one is in West Bengal.
In his address, Singh said strong infrastructure in border areas is essential in today’s uncertain times as it strengthens strategic capabilities.
The main highlight was the inauguration of a 140-foot double-lane modular bridge, built at the height of 11,000 feet at Flag hill in Sikkim’s Dokala, and the Chisumle-Demchok road at Umling La Pass at over 19,000 feet in Ladakh, which holds the Guinness Record of the world’s highest motorable road, according to the defence ministry.
In reference to the eastern Ladakh standoff, Singh said India would not have been able to respond strongly to the adversary in the northern sector if there was no infrastructure in the region.
“The situation we faced in the northern sector recently, and the manner in which we were able to respond strongly to the adversary, would not have been possible without appropriate infrastructure development,” Singh said in a reference to the eastern Ladakh standoff.
“In today’s uncertain environment, the possibility of any kind of conflict cannot be ruled out. Such situations motivate us even more for the development of these areas. It is a matter of pride that we have the BRO for cooperation in the development of these areas,” Singh added.
He said the road at Umling-La pass will enable faster movement of armed forces, boost tourism and ensure socio-economic development of the region.
“As we move forward in the direction of strengthening our border infrastructure, we have to bolster our surveillance systems as well,” Singh said.
“Problems of infiltration, skirmishes, illegal trade and smuggling, etc. often persist in border areas. In view of this, Government had started Comprehensive Integrated Border Management System sometime back,” he said.
The defence minister also announced the setting up of ‘BRO Cafes’ at 75 places which he said would boost tourism and help armed forces personnel in border areas.
He said these cafes will showcase the local traditions and have facilities such as parking, sitting area, souvenir shops, medical inspection rooms and photo galleries.
Singh also rued that adequate attention was not given to developing border infrastructure after Independence, but asserted that there was a major change in the approach in the last few years.
“After Independence, our policies were such that the internal areas of the country developed, but the border areas remained relatively deprived of development. This situation continued for a long time,” he said.
“As we used to move away from Delhi, the graph of development also kept falling down in the same proportion. Earlier it was said that people from border areas may be far from Delhi, but they are not far from our hearts. But as the transport sector witnessed major expansion, it became an old saying,” Singh said.
The defence minister said the roads in border areas are not only for strategic needs but also ensure equal participation of remote areas in the development of the nation.
“In this way, these bridges, roads and tunnels play an important role in our security, and in empowering the entire nation,” he said.
Referring to the construction of the road in southern Ladakh, Singh said the BRO achieved the “historic feat” despite facing numerous challenges, including that of extreme altitude and sub-zero temperature.
“It is a matter of pride not only for BRO but also for the nation,” he said.
The defence minister described the indigenous double-lane modular bridge as a shining example of ‘Aatmanirbharta’ (self-reliance) and appreciated the fact that it has been developed at a much lower cost and can be dismantled if need be.
“It is an important milestone on the path to achieving ‘Make in India’ as envisioned by our Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It is a symbol of the government’s resolve to provide faster connectivity to border areas. It will also pave the way for the construction of more bridges in such areas,” he added.
Singh said the e-inauguration has taken the tally of infrastructure projects executed by the BRO to a record 102 in a single working season.
He also said that the construction of roads, highways, tunnels and bridges in border areas is pivotal to building a strong and prosperous nation, saying that a country, which develops its own paths, shows the way to the world.
The defence minister said keeping in view the security needs of the country, the government has accorded top priority to infrastructure development in border areas.