With Prime Minister Narendra Modi scheduled to inaugurate it in a month’s time, the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) is busy giving finishing touches to the strategic 9-km long Atal Tunnel under the Rohtang Pass in Himachal Pradesh.
Originally designed as a 8.8-km long tunnel and named after former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in a tribute to him on his 95th birth anniversary, fresh GPS readings taken by the BRO after the work on it was completed showed that it was 9 km in length. The tunnel will be the world’s longest above an altitude of 3,000 metres and will reduce the distance between Manali and Leh by 46 kilometres.
Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur had earlier said that tunnel would be dedicated by the prime minister to the nation by the end of September this year. As per sources in Himachal government, the final date of inauguration is yet to be fixed but it will be anytime after September 25 provided the rains cease by then.
The Director General of BRO, Lt Gen Harpal Singh, visited the tunnel on August 21, the second time in a month, to inspect the progress. Senior BRO officials informed The Indian Express that the electrical work is now almost complete and that minor works are now being done before the tunnel is cleaned up physically.
“It will take almost 15 days to clean the tunnel. There is a lot of dust inside as a residue of the building process. Thereafter, a median on the road will be placed,” a BRO official associated with the project said.
Bridges on the approach to the tunnel from the north (on Lahaul Spiti side) and the south portals have also been completed and they are now being painted. Snow galleries have also been built on the approach road to the tunnel from Manali side to ensure all-weather connectivity.
Cutting through the Pir Panjal range, the tunnel will reduce the distance between Manali and Leh by 46 kms. The Rohtang Pass, to which tunnel provides an alternate, is located at a height of 13,050 feet, and a journey from Manali valley to Laual and Spiti valley, which normally took more than five hours would now be completed in little over 10 minutes.
The tunnel will also provide a high degree of all weather connectivity to Leh and forward areas of Ladakh, which remain cut off for nearly six months from the rest of the country due to snow on the passes enroute. This is extremely significant from the military logistics point of view.
An alternate road link to Leh has also been developed by the BRO and is in final stages of completion. The Darcha-Padam-Nimu road will soon be operational but to make it an all-weather road, a 4.15 km long tunnel will have to be built at Sinka La pass at a height of 16,703 feet.
There are several user friendly features of the Atal Tunnel, including an emergency escape tunnel which has been built under the main tunnel. This would provide an emergency exit in case of any untoward incident taking place, which may render the main tunnel unuseable.
The tunnel also provides a telephone every 150 metres, fire hydrant every 60 metres, emergency exit every 500 metres, turning cavern every 2.2 km, air quality monitoring system every one km, broadcasting system and automatic incident detection system with CCTV cameras every 250 metres.
BRO officials say vehicles will travel at a maximum speed of 80 km per hour in the tunnel and upto 1,500 trucks and 3,000 cars are expected to use it per day when the situation turn normal post Covid-19 restrictions.
Nearly 3,000 contractual workers and 650 regular employees worked in shifts through 24 hours on the project. The project suffered slight delays following the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak as workers and material were not available due to lockdown.
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