Manali: UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi today kicked off the drilling work of 8.8 km Rohtang Tunnel at Dhundi near Manali in Himachal. Terming it a “happy and historic” occasion for the nation she asked the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) to ensure that there was no ecological degradation during the drilling.
Addressing a public meeting at Solang valley, Ms Gandhi said it was a dream project of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.
She also expressed the hope that the BRO would complete the 8.8-km tunnel work within the deadline of 2015, when it would be thrown open for the public to drive through from Manali to Keylong without having to touch the icy heights of Rohtang Pass at an altitude of 3,978 metres.
Recalling that former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had laid the foundation stone for the approach roads to the tunnel in 2002, Gandhi said the tunnel, conceived during the Prime Ministership of Indira Gandhi in 1983 and later approved in 1987 during Rajiv Gandhi’s regime, would help connect the tribal areas of Lahaul-Spiti in the state with other parts of the country all year long.
“The tunnel will also provide for an alternative, all-weather road route for the civilians and armed forces to strategically important Ladakh region in Jammu and Kashmir,” she said, acknowledging that the construction at this altitude of over 3,000 metres was a “difficult and challenging” job.
She said HP Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal had placed certain demands for development projects, as did her party colleagues from the state. Among them were proposals for a special hospital for the region and an airport, which she promised to take up with Central Ministers.
Mr. Dhumal in his address said the Rohtang tunnel would meet the long-standing demand of the region for yearlong connectivity and help the armed forces who had to carry out air maintenance of troops deployed in Ladakh in the winters.
Pointing to the infrastructure development done by China along its borders with India, Dhumal made a demand for a railway line via the region to Leh that would help in transporting heavy equipment including battle tanks for the armed forces, apart from enabling passenger traffic.
Mr. Dhumal made a plea with Defence Minister A. K. Antony to review and change the Recruitable Male Population formula for enlisting armed forces personnel and allow all willing youth from the state to become soldiers.
Defence Minister Mr. Antony, in his address said the tunnel construction would be completed within 63 months to be ready by 2015 and the Defence Ministry had set up a steering committee under an Additional Secretary to monitor the work and remove impediments immediately.
Drilling work also started at the exit point, joining the Manali-Sarchu road, over Chandra river. The tunnel will incorporate semi-transverse ventilation system, where large fans would separately circulate air, in and out throughout the tunnel length and thus reduce vehicular fumes.
Strabag-Afcons, a joint venture between India’s Afcons Infrastructure Ltd and Strabag SE of Austria will construct the tunnel under the aegis of BRO.