Tunnel Vision 2014: To Ladakh By Road In Sleet And Snow

8 December 2009
The Economic Times

New Delhi: Work on the strategic Rohtang Tunnel that will ensure all weather road connectivity to Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir will begin early next year and be completed by 2014, more than three decades after it took shape on the drawing board. The nine-kilometre horseshoe shaped tunnel that will help connect the Ladakhi capital Leh to Manali in Himachal Pradesh will be at a height of 3,000-3,100 metres and one of the highest in the world, officials said. 'The tunnel is important to maintain supply lines to the forward posts in Ladakh and Siachen Glacier,' said an official of the Border Roads Organisation (BRO). The contract for the tunnel was awarded on Sep 24 this year after the Cabinet Committee on Security approved it, he said. Though conceived in 1983, the foundation stone was laid years later in 2000 by then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2000. It took another nine years for the next step to be taken. 'The contract has been awarded to Afcon Infrastructure in collaboration with European firm Strabag in September. The work would begin early next year (2010) and be completed in 2014,' the BRO official said on condition of anonymity. The project, estimated to cost around Rs.1,500 crore ($3.2 billion), would have to overcome vagaries of nature like heavy snowfall, high velocity winds and sub-zero temperatures. It's a tough job, beginning from building access roads to the tunnel site. 'Work is running full throttle to complete the roads leading up to the tunnel site. Initially, only access roads with minimum necessary specifications for the mobilisation of resources will be constructed. Later, the same will be developed to National Highway Double Lane specifications and will then be called the approach road,' the official added. Burrowed below the Rohtang Pass at 3,978 metres, the tunnel will ensure that the pass connecting the strategically important regions bordering China will remain open year round. Presently, the route is closed during the winter months from November to April due to heavy snowfall. It will provide an all-weather alternative road to Ladakh region in Jammu and Kashmir and the Lahaul and Spiti district in Himachal Pradesh. Besides, the 475 km distance between Manali and Leh in Jammu and Kashmir will be reduced by 40 km. With China constructing a rail line near the India-China border, New Delhi is also firming up projects to revamp border infrastructure in the region. The main thrust is on increasing connectivity whether by road or by air, officials said. The government is also planning to refurbish over 20 advanced landing grounds in the region which could then be used for boosting tourism in the region and to maintain supply to the troops in forward areas.