Light At The End Of Rohtang Tunnel?
6 December 2004
The Times of India
New Delhi: The Rohtang tunnel project in Himachal Pradesh, aimed at establishing an all-weather 'alternative route' to the strategic Ladakh region, is making excruciatingly slow progress, much to the Army's dismay. Latest projections show the 9-km tunnel, along with link roads, will only be completed by 2012 at an estimated cost of Rs 1,710 crore. That is, if all goes well from now on. 'The project, mooted decades ago, has been delayed due to problems ranging from official apathy to environmental objections. The forbidding terrain, with frequent avalanches in the area, also makes construction work extremely tough,' said an officer. At present, only the Phase-I of the massive project is nearing completion, with around Rs 45 crore being spent. Under it, the 2.7-km approach road to the 'south portal' of the tunnel has been completed, while the 23.8-km approach road to the 'north portal' is on the verge of being finished. The construction of the actual tunnel - to be drilled under the 13,500- foot high Rohtang Pass which remains snowed under for six months every year - will only be taken up after the government floats global tenders for the work. It is estimated that almost 8 lakh cubic metres of earth will have to be removed from the Rohtang Hill for constructing the tunnel. It was after the 1999 Kargil conflict that the government decided to speed up the project to provide 'strategic operational support' to the Army as well as boost economic development in the Lahaul-Spiti region. The Srinagar-Leh road is vulnerable to Pakistani shelling, as was witnessed during the Kargil conflict. 'An alternative route to rush troops and supplies to Leh-Ladakh is, consequently, necessary,' said the officer. The tunnel, when it comes up, will reduce the distance between Manali and Leh by 40 km and save several hours spent on ascending the Rohtang Pass. The plan is to make the Manali-Leh road, among the highest in the world, an all-weather route for defence supplies and other traffic.