ENCOUNTERING ROADBLOCKS and serious geological challenges, the 8.8-km long Rohtang Tunnel will be one of India’s longest traffic tunnels when it is constructed, unique at its height of 10,171 feet.
But the project that missed its 2015 deadline is now looking at 2019 as the new deadline. Engineers working at the site believe 2020 is more realistic.
One reason is the water ingress on the south portal side in 2012. Detected to a source from Seri Nullah, a glacier-fed rivulet flowing through the 562 metres in the tunnel cavity, it took until earlier this year to fix. At one time, the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), a defence organisation executing the project, which stopped all work on the tunnel to fix the problem, and once even considered changing the alignment.
“Himalayan geology is highly unpredictable. Every day there is a new challenge and we have to find a solution there and then. Now we are looking forward to a breakthrough when two portals, north and south, will be joined next year,” says Brigadier Manoj Kumar, chief engineer, BRO.
The issue of delay in the tunnel construction was also raised in Parliament earlier this month to which Minister of Defence Manohar Parrikar explained three main factors: Encountering Seri nullah, variation between tendered rock class and encountered rock class, besides a limited working season.
Till now, Rs 1,335 crore out of Rs 1,458 crore allotted to the BRO for the project has been used up. The Ministry, Parrikar said, had formed a high-level committee comprising experts from Department of Science and Technology (DST), National Institute of Rock Mechanics (NIRM) Bangalore, Central Institute of Mining and Fuel Research (CIMFR), Nagpur and Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, Dehradun to review the progress and take remedial measures to tackle poor geological conditions encountered in the tunnels.
Data available with BRO shows that after January 2016, the excavation work had picked up pace with 105 metres done in January, 164 metres in February, 182 metres in March, and 217 metres in April 2016. “April was an exceptionally good period for the tunnel’s progress,” feels Brigadier Kumar.
Of late, the tunnel work has started facing another serious hurdle created by the state government — that of not taking a decision on making land available at Chatru in Lahaul-Spiti district for acquiring construction material like sand and grit. The BRO had asked for a revenue land, which is free from the forest, to be handed over but the government instead offered forest land.
State Chief Secretary V C Pharka says he has called BRO officials to Shimla for a meeting and hopefully the issue will be resolved so that it doesn’t delay the ongoing prestigious project. “We want Rohtang Tunnel to be completed within the revised schedule. It’s an important project of the country. Because it will benefit Himachal immensely, the government will try to clear all hurdles.”