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Explained: The Sela Tunnel – importance and the strategic edge it promises

The strategically-significant Sela Tunnel project in Arunachal Pradesh is nearing completion. A look at its features and why the project matters.

Sela Tunnel project in Arunachal Pradesh. (Express Photo)

The strategically-significant Sela Tunnel project in Arunachal Pradesh is nearing completion. The project entered a decisive phase after a final blast earlier this year marked the culmination of excavation. Upon completion, which is likely by the end of this year, the Sela Tunnel above 13,000-ft will boost all-weather connectivity to the Line of Actual Control with China. A look at its features and why the project matters.

What does the Sela Tunnel project include?

The project, being executed by the Border Roads Organisation, includes two tunnels and a link road. While Tunnel 1 will be 980 metres long single-tube, Tunnel 2 will be 1,555 metres with one bi-lane tube for traffic and one escape tube for emergencies running alongside. The link road between the two tunnels will be 1,200 metres.

Tunnel 2 will be one of the longest tunnels to have been constructed above an altitude of over 13,000 feet. The project also involves construction of an approach road of 7 km to Tunnel 1, which takes off from BCT Road, and a link road of 1.3 km, which connects Tunnel 1 to Tunnel 2. The total length of the project, including the tunnels, the approach and the link roads, will be around 12 km.

Where is it being constructed?

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Located in West Kameng district of Arunachal Pradesh, the tunnel project will provide an alternate axis to the Sela pass, which is at 13,700 feet. It will be on the BCT Road – the Balipara, Charduar and Tawang axis, which is more than 300 km long. The estimated cost of the project is Rs 700 crore.

Why is the project important?

All-weather connectivity to Tawang and other forward areas in the sector will be the most important advantage that the project promises. At the moment, Sela pass stays closed for a few winter months. The project will provide a new alignment on the axis towards the LAC, and allow movement of military and civil vehicles all through the year.

Laying the project’s foundation stone in February 2019, the government had highlighted its three benefits: “All weather connectivity to Tawang and forward areas”; reduction in “more than one hour of travel time from Tezpur to Tawang” and travellers avoiding “dangerous snow covered Sela top at a height of 13,700 feet.”

It had added: “All weather connectivity to Tawang would be a game-changer for the local population ahead of Sela apart from the much required strategic edge for our security forces.”

More the time that will be saved during travel, it is the ability to cross the area during winters that matters the most.

What is the progress?

The project is close to completion. After the foundation stone was laid by the PM in 2019, the first blast of Tunnel 1 was done in January, 2021. The final blast for the 980-metre Tunnel 1 was conducted in January this year marking the “culmination of the excavation works on the complete Sela Tunnel Project”.

In the interim, the breakthrough blast for Tunnel 2 was carried out in October, 2021.

In October 2021, when The Indian Express had visited the site, nearly 50 per cent of contractual work had been completed. In terms of physical progress, while for Tunnel 2 and its parallel escape tunnel, the excavation had already been wrapped up, for Tunnel 1, the work was 80 per cent complete back then.

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