The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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‘Mutiny’ brake on frontier projects

New Delhi, June 7: The alleged “mutiny” in the army-controlled Border Roads Organisation (BRO) has spread and run deep, bringing to a near-halt most key projects on the frontiers.

One report sent from the BRO headquarters to the defence ministry said that but for a few exceptions, “most projects run by civilian chief engineers have failed to deliver because of mismanagement and poor leadership”.

A presentation made by the civilian staff organised in the General Reserve Engineers Force (GREF) — the non-military component of the BRO — said the army is ruining their careers “and there is always hatred and enmity between GREF and army officers, which is not a healthy situation for any organisation”.

The BRO has a staff strength of 51,000 with 1,400 officers, nearly half from the army and from the GREF. The GREF is also a uniformed force that wears khakis and not the olive greens of the army.

The reports have been seen by The Telegraph and are part of a set of documents on the BRO that have been sent to defence minister A.K. Antony.

Public attention does not get focused on the rot in the BRO not only because army rules forbid officers from going public with their grievances but also because most of the staff are posted in remote regions. But the charge that a BRO chief engineer was inciting a “mutiny” — ironically in the 150th year of the 1857 “Sepoy Mutiny” — has opened a can of worms.

Rival officers of the army and the GREF have sent contrary reports to the defence ministry, blaming one another for the tardy pace of work that is meant to take development to remote regions.

The BRO’s budgetary allocations for the current year to build roads and bridges in the Northeast, Jammu and Kashmir and some of the most hostile terrain is Rs 1,600 crore. Ironically, the Cabinet Committee on Security had only last year changed policy to allow for intensive road-building along the Sino-Indian border areas. But these projects are tardy at best.

The BRO director-general, Lt Gen. K.S. Rao, had informed the defence ministry that chief engineer B.B. Lal was engaged in “subversive activity that may lead to mutiny”. Lal, the chief engineer of Project Hirak that is building roads through Naxalite-influenced districts of central India, had last month “appropriated” to himself the rank of “major general”.

Lal has so far been regarded as a star officer and was handpicked to head a strategic Indian project in Afghanistan that was aimed at beating Pakistan’s refusal to give transit right to India.

It has now emerged that in May, not only Lal but also other civilian chief engineers in the BRO had worn the two stars — the rank of a major general — on their epaulettes. This was on May 7, May 8 and May 9. All the officers did not resort to this show of protest on the same day because army rules forbid unionisation

The report from the BRO headquarters cites the examples of Project Chetak (border areas of Punjab and Rajasthan) and Project Udayak (Assam, Arunachal) to show that civilian chief engineers are not delivering. In another project (Setuk), misappropriation of funds was alleged.

The report said because of lapses such as these, all BRO staff should be brought under the Army Act for all times. Currently, the army’s writ runs only in project areas.

Some GREF officers have also made presentations to the director-general and the defence ministry. They have pointed out that the army was appropriating to itself posts earmarked for GREF officers.

The feel that Lal has been targeted as he is next in line to take over as additional director-general. Lal is also young enough to remain in service till 2015 and will thus outrank many army officers.

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