The government has taken away some civil infrastructure works from the Indian Army-controlled Border Roads Organisation (BRO) as it has failed to meet deadlines for key roads in strategically-important locations, resulting not only in delays but also huge cost over-runs.
Many of these projects are now being transferred to a fledgling state-owned company, the National Highways Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd (NHIDCL) that was set up in 2014 and went on to achieve "Mini Ratna" status in quick time last year.
A cabinet document circulated to central ministries and seen by IANS notes that the BRO is overstretched and has been given work beyond its capacity and mandate.
"The BRO has started taking work beyond (its) size. Initially only for strategically important works, (it) later took the civil work as well," reads the cabinet note.
The document notes that the main object of the proposal was to expedite the implementation of road infrastructure projects in the country that would increase connectivity to far-off areas and further augment economic activities there.
The cabinet note has also suggested that the BRO adopt new technologies and also urgently resize its strength in terms of work force and avoid cost-escalation of projects.
Some of the delayed projects include the 220-km-long National Highway (NH)-53 in Manipur. The delay has escalated the cost to a whopping Rs 1,600 crore ($247 million) from Rs 1,100 crore, the document noted.
"Due to very slow progress, the road is proposed to be transferred from the BRO," reads the cabinet note.
Another project is the 126-km NH-39 between Imphal and Kohima, which has been pending since 2011.
Other delayed projects are the Ukhrul-Toloi-Tadubi section of NH-102A in Manipur and improvement of the Aizwal-Tuipang section in Mizoram.
In response to the cabinet note, many ministries and their departments have accorded the green signal to the proposal that these projects be transferred to the NHIDCL.
The Home Ministry has supported the move because "the object of the proposed company (NHIDCL)... is broad enough to undertake the work of construction of border roads".
The Economic Affairs and the Expenditure Department of the Finance Ministry, in response to the note, said that the "focus on the northeast region may also help in reducing the multiplicity of agencies".
"Some activities of the NHAI (National Highways Authority of India) and the BRO can be taken over by the NHIDCL."
The Ministry of Law has also supported the proposal as "no legal issues have been raised".
The BRO's parent, the Defence Ministry, has suggested that projects may be transferred to "the new entity NHIDCL on a case-to-case basis".
As such, the roads offloaded from the BRO and transferred to NHIDCL include several projects in Arunachal Pradesh that connect key areas in the border state.
Commenting on the issue, a senior bureaucrat at the Ministry of Road, Transport and Highways (MoRTH) familiar with the developments said that NHIDCL would continue working with the BRO that needed to focus more on defence roads and infrastructure.
"The BRO should focus only on defence security road issues. Both NHIDCL and BRO are the two arms of the government and are building synergies to build the nation in the best possible ways," the official, unwilling to be named, told IANS.
Records from the NHIDCL reveal that several projects under Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ambitious Bharatmala initiative have been transfered to the NHIDCL from the BRO.
NHIDCL -- initially set up to improve roads in the northeast -- has already been assigned several strategic projects connecting India to Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan in collaboration with the Asian Development Bank and the Japan International Cooperation Agency for funding under the South Asia Sub-regional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) initiative.
(Rupesh Dutta can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)