All-weather border outposts: ministries in blame game as Ladakh project fails

At a time when Indian troops are still in confrontation with the Chinese Along the real line of control in eastern Ladakh, an infrastructure project for troops guarding the area turned out to be a failure after five years of work and investment of several million rupees.

And the failure of the project also pitted two key government ministries – the Interior Ministry and the Jal Shakti Ministry – against each other.

The project involved the construction of more than 40 Integrated Border Crossings (BOPs) announced by the government in 2015. These BOPs were supposed to be the first of their kind in the region with frost-proof toilets, running water and a temperature kept above 22 degrees Celsius each time.

The project was seen as an important step in improving border infrastructure for frontline troops at a time when infrastructure on the Chinese side was seen as years ahead of India.

The first BOP, as a pilot for the project, was cleared to be built for the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) in Lukung, on the west bank of Pangong Tso. The lake region experienced a serious confrontation between Indian and Chinese troops for nine months before disengagement was achieved in February this year.

The project was awarded to National Projects Construction Corporation (NPCC), a PSU under the ministry of Jal Shakti. Five years later, and after spending around Rs 20 crore, the project was, for all intents and purposes, declared a failure by the ITBP.

Sources from ITBP and MHA said the BOP is unable to maintain temperatures above 10-11 degrees Celsius and the build quality is so poor that the 40 or so jaws remaining in the BOP have started to fail. isolated prefabricated huts. where they used to live.

The MHA, according to sources, is so unhappy that it has not only stopped the partial payment to NPCC for the project, but is also considering getting rid of the project altogether.

The NPCC, on the other hand, blamed the ITBP and MHA for the failure of the project, claiming that withholding payment resulted in the affected subcontractor failing to maintain the heating system and thus had a negative impact on the effectiveness of the BOP.

Sources said the ITBP withheld payment of Rs 4 crore to the NPCC for its failure to maintain the desired temperature in the BOP. “The contract between us and the NPCC was to build a BOP where the temperature would stay above 22 degrees Celsius all year round, even if the outside temperature was minus 44 degrees. The NPCC has failed to meet the most basic demands. For us, the BOP is still incomplete. So why should we release the entire payment? Said a senior ITBP official.

MHA sources said even the build quality is poor. “The NPCC was supposed to provide insulated windows resembling Rajdhani trains in the BOP with double sheets of glass, but they used poor quality glass and fixed the same in aluminum frames, which resulted in drafts. icy air in the BOP. The jawans say they felt warmer in their prefabricated huts, ”said an MHA official.

The BOP was inspected last year by the Secretary (Border Management) of MHA along with senior ITBP officials. Since then, there have been multiple meetings and communications between branches of the two ministries to improve the situation without any consequences, sources said.

Responding to questions from The Sunday Express, DP Singh, Head of Department (Projects), NPCC, said work was completed in all respects within the scope of the project in October 2019, but around 40 staff from the ‘ITBP have switched to BOP. only in October 2020.

“The temperature on the ground floor was observed between 19.5 and 22 degrees Celsius and on the first floor it was 17-19.5 degrees Celsius between October 2020 and January 2021,” Singh said, providing captures temperature reading screen.

ITBP officials, however, said they also took measurements every day and the temperature was barely kept above 10-11 degrees.

The NPCC claimed it went beyond the scope of work to meet ITBP and Secretary (BM) requests, agreeing to additional construction and one-year maintenance. But the MHA, he said, was not releasing his payment, leading to maintenance issues.

According to Singh, ITBP has yet to pay outstanding invoices of Rs 4 crore and GST of over Rs 1 crore. “For this reason, neither maintenance is taking place nor the technology partners are willing to help them due to non-payments over the past two years,” he said.

An NPCC official involved in the project said the BOP heating system was powered by solar and geothermal energy. “There are chemicals and fluids that need to be replaced regularly in the heating system to keep it efficient. The subcontractor has not been paid and therefore refuses to service it, ”he said.

According to the NPCC, to increase the efficiency of the green elements of the building, it had submitted an improvement proposal to the ITBP in August 2020. This, he said, was “in accordance with the discussion held with the officers. MHA and ITBP, but to date no decision has been communicated in this regard.

An MHA official said, however, that this was just a way to hide his inability to complete the project. “They are now asking us to build a wall between the BOP and Pangong Lake to break the wind. You failed to deliver the agreed project and now you are asking us to spend more, ”said the manager.

A detailed questionnaire sent by The Sunday Express to the ITBP and MHA did not elicit a response. The NPCC, meanwhile, sent ITBP an additional bill of Rs 1.35 crore.

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