Border Roads Organisation: Strategic Surge in Infrastructure

The Wake–up Call

The Galwan Valley clash between Indian and Chinese troops in June 2020 served as a turning point for India, highlighting several critical areas requiring immediate attention and strategic reassessment. The clash was a stark reminder of the strategic vulnerabilities associated with inadequate border infrastructure. In the face of an increasingly assertive China, the need for India to rapidly upgrade its infrastructure along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) became a strategic compulsion. The historical oversight by past Governments, characterized by a lack of focus on border infrastructure, resulted in inadequate road connectivity, hindering timely mobilization and logistical support to the troops deployed on the first line of defence. Previous governments operated under the apprehension of provoking neighboring countries, treating border villages merely as buffer zones rather than integral part of the Nation. The successive Governments since independence operated through an established narrative that improved roads leading to the borders could potentially be exploited by the adversary, which was an extremely defensive and regressive approach, effectively stalling the development and accessibility of these critical areas. Let me explain this further. There are two completely different issues here. The first is building roads at the border itself, i.e., the last few km leading directly to the International Border/Line of Control/Line of Actual Control. Such a road could be connecting to a border village or a military border post. Any such infrastructure/road built on the border itself will have to be held by own troops to deny the same to the enemy. Such roads, that are required to be constructed right on the border, must conform to the overall defensive/offensive plans, and therefore should be constructed only in consultation and approval of the Army. The second issue is to do with the roads/infrastructure leading from the depth areas to the border areas. Neglect of this second issue has had disastrous consequences to our overall defence preparedness. How this wrong has been corrected is discussed in detail in the succeeding paragraphs.

Significant Budget Allocation

The Galwan standoff between India and China on the LAC compelled us to give a serious rethink on our funding and policies regarding border infrastructure development. The Government has demonstrated remarkable foresight and commitment towards bolstering India’s border infrastructure by responding to this challenge of shrinking the road head differential with China all along the Northern Borders by enhancing the budget of Border Roads Organisation (BRO) incrementally by 160% during last three years. Earlier, from years on, the budget was constantly pegged at Rs 2000 Cr or so, for Army roads, which resulted in slowing down of ongoing projects due to cost and time overruns. In the interim budget of 2024-25, Rs 6500 Cr has been allocated for strategic roads. In the fiscal year 2022-23, the total budget expenditure of the BRO soared to a record Rs 12,340 Cr, including all the work that BRO does for four other ministries.

Streamlining of Processes

There has been constant improvement of procedures towards efficient functioning of BRO during last decade but major reforms happened when the Raksha Mantri, in February 2022, upgraded the Administrative Approval and Expenditure Sanctioning financial powers of executives at all levels so the time is not wasted in looking up to the next level for decisions. Such assured support and incremental funding by Government for next five years would bring India at parity with China on our border infrastructure development.

The Strategic Surge

Through the enhanced funding and streamlining of processes during last three years and visionary leadership at the helm of affairs, BRO has come out of its own shadows of poor quality of work, slow pace of construction and archaic practices through internal reforms, infusion of new technologies and induction of latest machines and equipment. Improved roads, bridges, tunnels, and airfields near the border areas are not only crucial for the rapid mobilization of troops, armaments, and materials in times of conflict but also play a vital role in enhancing the living conditions of military personnel stationed in these remote areas. Additionally, well-developed border infrastructure serves as a strong deterrent, signaling a nation’s readiness to defend its territory and maintain its sovereignty under all circumstances. This strategic surge in last mile connectivity all along the LAC by BRO certainly has conveyed a firm message to China that she no longer is dealing with a weak-willed adversary but a very strong Nation fast rising as a global economic giant.

Infusion of New Technology, Digitisation and Automation

Post Galwan, BRO has put in extraordinary efforts through infusion of numerous new technologies to accelerate the pace of work. From planning, to contracting, to execution, the organisation has left the old mindset behind and adopted new methodology available. BRO has digitized all its roads and put it on GIS for ease of better future planning and integration with other ministries working in the same domain. Through 11 new software, BRO is in better position to monitor progress of all its projects spread along land borders in 11 states and 3 UTs.

Induction of New Equipment and Atmnirbharta

The equipment profile of the organisation is getting upgraded with induction of state-of-the-art excavators, wagon/crawler rock drills and snow cutters. On call air lift effort including newly inducted Chinooks is available to BRO from snow clad mountains of Ladakh and Uttarakhand to steep thickly wooded mountains of Arunachal Pradesh. BRO during past few years has focussed on buying all its equipment and machines which are indigenously made. It also signed an MoU with Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers for manufacture of 60 number Double Lane Class 70 modular bridges in March 2022 and May 2023. These modular bridges are fast to construct and first of its kind in the country which would permit unhindered two-way traffic. These not only come at a cost one third of the imported bridges with similar specifications but would allow all kinds of tanks, artillery guns and multi axle loaded trucks on these. About 30 such bridges have already been constructed at critical places along Northern borders.

Experimenting with GeM

BRO has led the way for other organisations to follow use of GeM. It was awarded Silver Certificate for maximum Order Value in October 2021 as well as Gold Certificate for Timely Payments in October 2021 and Mar 2023. As translated in real terms, nearly 100% of all goods and services in BRO are being procured on GeM now, including purchase of steel and cement and all its machines and 90% of the payments to its contractors are made in nine days. This not only has saved approximately 12-14% of public money (approximately Rs 480 Cr per year in real terms) but also accelerated the infrastructure projects besides enhancing the quality.

Dignity and Social Security to CPLs

BRO employs approximately 90000 casual paid labourers (CPLs) for execution of its projects in most tough terrain and climatic conditions. Raksha Mantri, in Jan 2024, approved term insurance scheme for CPLs engaged by BRO, wherein Rs 10 Lakhs would be paid to the next of kin of the CPL in case he/she dies while working with BRO. He also introduced a groundbreaking policy in September 2023 for provision of funeral expenses and transfer of mortal remains of CPLs working for BRO. All these policy changes have restored the dignity of labourers working with BRO and provided much needed social security to them.

Accelerated Pace post Galwan

Post Galwan, the BRO intensified its efforts to develop border infrastructure, a move that can be seen as part of India’s broader strategy to strengthen its position along the LAC. The BRO expedited the construction of roads, bridges, and tunnels. Projects like the Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldi (DSDBO) road, which enhances connectivity to far-flung areas along the LAC in Ladakh, received renewed focus. The travel time has been reduced from erstwhile seven days to only one day. Simultaneously, the alternate connectivity to DBO has also been established via Sasoma-Saserla-Saser-Brangsa- Gapshan axis. Post Galwan, the road connectivity has been established to all forward posts in Eastern Ladakh and a 121 km long road connecting Chushul-Dungti-Fukche-Demchok along the LAC is in final stages of completion. Also, the work on Likaru-Migla-Fukche road in Chumar sector is on, making it the highest road in the world soon, at 19400 feet. With such road network coming up, now the reinforcements can reach at the point of conflict in fastest time frame, giving us an operational as well as strategic edge over China which was never thought of few years back.

The scale and speed that BRO has imparted to road construction in remote areas post Galwan has been unprecedented and a record 330 strategic Infrastructure Projects have been dedicated to the Nation in the last three years by Hon’ble Raksha Mantri.


Ladakh remains cut off from the rest of the country during winters when both routes, one from Srinagar and other from Manali to Leh get closed. In an unprecedented move, BRO significantly reduced closure period of Zojila from traditional 160 – 180 days in past, to 110 days in 2021, 73 days in 2022 and 68 days in 2023. This enhanced connectivity through Zojila Axis gave security forces an extended strategic reach through winters and saved Government exchequer approximately Rs 350 – 400 Cr for air maintaining troops deployed in Ladakh. Similarly other 26 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.

Putting India on Global Construction Map

Even amidst the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the progress of the BRO work did not slacken. Today BRO is performing at its utmost potential and has established nine world records post Galwan in the domain of construction including highest road at Umlingla (19024 feet) and Atal Tunnel, the longest tunnel above 10000 feet. BRO today is poised to create four other world records in near future, at the most rugged heights working under the harshest climatic conditions. BRO has completed four tunnels during last three years with ten tunnels under construction, and is poised to take on at least eight more tunnels in near future for which planning process is nearly completed, out of which six would be higher than Mont Blanc (15771 feet) – the highest peak of Alps. Till now the world used to look with awe and admiration at mountain tunnels in Alps but the focus is sooner shifting to India when it comes to construction of tunnels at super high altitudes.

World’s Highest Tunnel. The Shinkun La tunnel placed at an altitude of 15855 feet will connect 36 villages of Zanskar to 137 villages of Lahaul Spiti and would be world’s highest tunnel beating the record of China’s Mila tunnel (15584 feet).

World’s Highest Road. BRO started constructing world’s highest road on 15 Aug 23, connecting Likaru – Migla (19400 feet) – Fukche over a distance of 64 km. The road will break BRO’s own record of Umlingla.

World’s Highest Fighter Air Base. The work is going on in full swing at Nyoma Air Base which will provide strategic edge to Indian Air Force over China and extend operational and logistics reach of Army in Eastern Ladakh.

World’s Highest Bridge. BRO has completed work on world’s highest bridge located at an altitude of 15300 feet at Saser Brangsa over Shyok River in just one working season last year. This 345 m long bridge is class 70 and has seven piers resting on a total of 329 micropiles. The bridge is awaiting dedication to the Nation.

Third Axis

BRO has established “connectivity” on the 298-km road connecting Manali to Leh through Darcha and Nimmu on the Kargil-Leh Highway. The BRO personnel tirelessly cut through the vertical rock-face connecting the final stretch of Niraq gorge in sub-zero temperatures. The connectivity was finally achieved on 25 March, when the nation was celebrating Holi. “The Nimmu-Padam-Darcha Road derives its strategic importance from the fact that it is not only shorter vis-a-vis the other two axes, (Manali-Leh and Srinagar-Leh) but also crosses only one pass, the Shinkun La. Once the tunnel comes up, this axis will have all weather connectivity. The provision of connectivity along this third axis to Ladakh will give a quantum boost to our defence preparedness to the strategically important region.

As these projects on our Northern borders reach completion, the strategic upper hand once enjoyed by China through its rapid infrastructural expansion in TAR is fast being neutralised. The post Galwan surge in border infrastructure development by the BRO has significant strategic implications. It not only enhances India’s military preparedness and operational capabilities along the LAC but also serves as a testament to India’s commitment to defending its territorial integrity. Improved infrastructure in border areas is a critical component of India’s broader national security strategy, enabling it to better manage its disputes and stand firm in the face of external pressures.


Lt Gen Rajeev Chaudhry was commissioned into Corps of Engineers in Dec 1983. After serving for nearly 40 years, he retired as Director General Border Roads, on 30 Sep 2023. During his last assignment he accelerated the pace of work substantially to meet stringent targets and worked to get an incremental budget allocation of 160% during last three years.


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