Thursday, 14 April 2011

Corruption Destroying Our Defense Preparedness.

Imagine a scenario where the Indian Army is mobilized to counter an attack by the enemy but by the time it takes position we have already lost all strategic areas because we did not have roads to transfer heavy military vehicles and armor.

Sounds like a nightmare scenario... don't worry our own BRO is plotting the downnfall of Indian army in future wars by constructing sub-standard and faulty roads in the border region. As China and Pakistan ramp up their border infrastructure and support mechanism in readiness for a future invasion of India, we are trying our best to counter that by building our own network of roads and bridges to support our military....Or are we, is it just another way of making millions or is it a case of gross negligence on the part of people responsible.

A new CVC report paints a very dark picture of our defense establishments corruption level.

Corruption has seeped so much into the defence establishment that even projects connected with national security are failing to emerge unscathed. An inquiry ordered by the Central Vigilance Commission into Project Deepak of Border Roads Organization (BRO) has opened a can of worms, with shocking tales of manipulation of tenders, cartelization, lack of quality control and use of substandard material to maintain and construct crucial roads.

The audit conducted by the chief technical examiner (CTE) of the Border Roads Development Board (BRDB), in fact, found the quality of roads and bridges in some stretches is so pathetic that "specialized Army vehicles will find it extremely tough to use them in times of emergency."

The report is especially alarming since China has gone in for a massive upgrade of its border infrastructure over the last decade, with an extensive rail network and over 58,000km of roads in the Tibet Autonomous Region. India, in contrast, is floundering to make the 73 all-weather roads earmarked for construction along the 4,056-km Line of Actual Control with China, with not even 20 of them being completed so far.

The CTE inspection report, which has indicted several top BRO officers, was recently submitted to the defence ministry as well as the CVC, said sources. On being contacted, minister of state for defence M M Pallam Raju, who is also the BRDB chairperson, however, said, "I have been travelling for the last 10 days. I don`t specifically remember seeing anything like that. But if an inquiry is held, we will definitely follow procedures and take action."

BRO also downplayed the report, holding that such checks were "a routine matter" and "corrective action" was taken if needed. But with Project Deepak being just one of the several such whose primary task is to construct strategic roads and other infrastructure along the fronts with China and Pakistan, there are fears that similar stories are being repeated elsewhere. The inspection report itself says that "proper investigation" by an "outside agency" is required to "reveal all the facts."

The technical audit inspected 31 works and purchase contracts under Project Deepak, including the Manali-Sarchu, Hindustan-Tibet and Dhami-Kiongal roads in Himachal Pradesh, undertaken from September 2005 to October 2010.

But it was forced to drop the work associated with the proposed 8.8-km long Rohtang Tunnel due to "reluctance" of the directorate general of border roads to "provide tender documents and correspondence of the contract".

As for the works examined, the report says, "Serious types of financial irregularities and manipulations regarding award and administration of contracts, besides poor quality of works execution and documentation, have been observed by the chief engineer (quality control) both in contractual and departmental execution."

Though the report gives an estimate of "more than Rs 100 crore" of financial irregularities in "selected contracts", it warns that the "actual figures may be manifold higher". "Financial management is lacking in BRO," it says, adding that officials responsible for irregularities get away scot free since there is "no accountability."

While BRO`s in-house capability and resources are being "misused" or under-utilized, "more and more contracts are being outsourced to private constructors." The report dwells upon how only a few contractors are being favoured with contracts after contracts, without any market rate analysis, transparency and "healthy competition in violation of CVC and other guidelines". Moreover, tender rates are being pegged way above the actual costs by "showing false scarcity of road construction material" at or near the work sites, among other things.

Even more worrying is the finding that "practically no quality control" has been exercised during execution of contracts to repair or construct roads. "Neither the material conforms to the stipulated specifications and gradation, nor are the thickness and quality`s a matter of grave concern that locally-available quarry spoil/river bed material has been used without proper compaction and wet rolling," says the report.

Even roads constructed or repaired by BRO are plagued by similar problems, with total disregard of "geometric standards" and strategic needs. Take the widening of the Manali-Sarchu road, which is part of the strategic Manali-Leh highway. "Quality of execution is extremely poor. Road geometrics is not being achieved as per laid down standards...Specialized Army vehicles cannot move easily during emergency on this vital axis to Leh (J&K)," it says.

Bridges, too, are being constructed without proper planning and care. For instance, the report dubs as "technically unsafe" the 50-metre span steel super-structure bridge being constructed over the Koksar Nallah on the Manali-Sarchu road.

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