Digging work of the strategic 8.8-kilometre all-weather Rohtang Tunnel in Himachal Pradesh, which is already running three years behind schedule, will be complete on Wednesday, according to media reports.
Built at an altitude of 13,050 feet under the Rohtang Pass in the eastern Pir Panjal range of the Himalayas on the Leh-Manali highway, the horse-shoe shaped road tunnel will be operational for emergency vehicles through the winter, Hindustan Times reported. The tunnel will be fully functional by 15 August, 2019.
Conceived in 1998, the project was announced by Atal Bihari Vajpayee on 3 June, 2000, and the work was entrusted to Border Roads Organisation on 6 May, 2002. Sonia Gandhi laid the foundation stone of the project on 28 June, 2010, the report said.
The tunnel, which will be the longest running tunnel in India at 8.8 kilometres once completed, will connect Manali to Lahaul and Spiti Valley throughout the year and will reduce the length of the Leh-Manali Highway by around 46 kilometres, PTI reported. It will also significantly reduce the travel time by two-and-a-half hours.
The existing road to the tunnel will separate from the Manali-Leh highway at Palchan near Manali, and will rejoin the highway near Gufa Hotel in Sissu. The tunnel will be of much help to tribals in the Lahul Valley and others in medical emergencies during the winter when most over-ground roads remain non-operational.
The Rohtang tunnel will also be of great importance to the Indian Army as it will get easier access to areas near Pakistan and China, a The Times of India report said, adding the digging work is likely to be completed on Wednesday. The Centre wants to construct three more tunnels along the Manali-Leh highway to make road access to remote areas possible during winter months, according to the report.
The project is likely to boost tourism in the region by providing round-the-year connectivity to the picturesque Lahaul valley, which remains inaccessible for six months every year due to heavy snowfall.
In March, the Himachal Pradesh government said it was prepared to cope with the increased tourist inflow in the tribal district of Lahaul-Spiti it was expecting after the opening of the Rohtang tunnel, PTI reported.
"The government is aware that the tourist rush to the tribal district of Lahaul-Spiti would increase after the opening of the Rohtang tunnel and is prepared to cope with the situation," Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh said in the Assembly.
He said in 2015-16, Rs 40 lakh was sanctioned and utilised for the development and beatification of gompas (Buddhist monasteries). In addition, a sum of Rs 4,51,040 had been spent on training the local youth in tourism-related activities.
Cost of construction
The estimated cost of the project in 2010 was Rs 1,700 crore, according to Hindustan Times. In 2015, the cost was revised to Rs 2,000 crore, and now the projected cost by 2019 is Rs 4,000 crore.
The project had to suffer several delays and eventually missed the 2015 deadline due to extremely difficult weather and other inhospitable conditions. The project was to be originally completed in February 2015 but water ingress from Seri Nullah, ban on rock mining, water leakage, and delay in allotment of land needed for quarrying led to the delays, the report said.
After several challenges posed by "geological surprises", in 2016, excavating had to be paused because of 'weak strata' hampering the rock-cutting process, IANS reported. "For the past 10 days we have been encountering the weak strata with high overburden on the south portal side. This is hampering further excavation," an official of the BRO said.
Breakthrough in the project's progress was also delayed because of the slow excavation speed the engineers were forced to proceed with. Advancing by only about six meters a day through a blasting-and-digging approach, high temperatures during summer months made it difficult for workers to work underground for long.
'Ready by 2019'
Engineers had said earlier this year that the project will be completed within the deadline of 2019, PTI reported.
According to BRO data, 2,249 metres of tunnelling was done in 2016, the highest annual progress achieved so far. Praveen Goel, a BRO engineer who was attached with the project recently after his deputation with the Delhi Metro, said the record progress achieved in 2016, came despite heavy snowfall in Solang Valley.
Brigadier DN Bhatt, chief engineer of the project, expressed hope that his team will be able to dedicate it to the nation "well within the targeted time frame of 2019", the report said.
With inputs from agencies
Updated Date: Oct 11, 2017 12:54 PM