Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the Atal Tunnel in Himachal Pradesh’s Rohtang on Saturday, which connects Solang Valley near Manali to Sissu in Lahaul and Spiti district. The Atal Tunnel is the longest highway tunnel in the world (9.02-km), built at an altitude of 3,000 meters. The Prime Minister was accompanied by Defense Minister Rajnath Singh, Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat and Army Chief General MM Naravane.
The tunnel cuts through a mountain west of the Rohtang La and will now shorten the distance between the two points by around 46 km. What was a nearly 4 hour will now take around 15 minutes. The double-laned tunnel can handle around 3,000 cars and 1,500 trucks per day, with a maximum speed of 80 km per hour.
Launching the tunnel, PM Modi said, “Atal tunnel will give new strength to India’s border infrastructure. It is an example of world-class border connectivity. There have been demands to improve border infrastructure but for a long time, such projects either couldn’t get out of the planning stage or got stuck midway. Connectivity has a direct connection with development. Connectivity in border areas is directly related to security issues.”
The Prime Minister said that such border connectivity projects will also aid the security forces in ensuring regular supplies to them and also in their patrolling.
“Atal Ji laid the foundation stone of approach road of this tunnel in 2002. Till 2013-2014, progress was made only on 1,300 meters of this tunnel. After 2014, the project progressed with an unprecedented pace. In just six years, we completed the work of 26 years.”
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The Prime Minister also said, “Emphasis has been put on the development of border infrastructure. Its benefits are being extended to the common people as well as our armed forces personnel. There is nothing more important for us than protecting the country. But the country has also seen that a period when the defense interests of the country were compromised.”
“Many other important projects were treated in the same way as Atal tunnel. The strategically important Daulat Beg Oldi airstrip in Ladakh remained closed for 40–45 years. I don’t want to go into details as to what was the helplessness and the pressure behind it,” he added.
The Prime Minister also flagged off a bus carrying 15 passengers from the north portal of Atal tunnel in Sissu, Lahaul Valley for the south portal for the tunnel. He lauded the efforts of the engineers, technicians and workers who risked their lives in making this dream come true. He also said that farmers, horticulturalists and youth will now also have easy access to the capital of Delhi and other markets.
Rajnath Singh, who reached the site on Friday to review the preparations, said, “Border Roads Organisation completed construction of Atal Tunnel within its estimated cost of construction. This tunnel is dedicated to the soldiers guarding our borders & those living near border areas.”
On Friday, he had tweeted, “Visited the ‘Atal Tunnel, Rohtang’ to review the preparations for the inaugural ceremony to be held tomorrow. PM Shri Narendra Modi will dedicate the Tunnel to the nation. This 9.02 Km long ‘Engineering Marvel’ will connect Manali to Lahaul-Spiti valley throughout the year.”
The tunnel has been named after former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The construction, which used 15,000 tonnes of steel, took nearly a decade and cost around Rs 3,200 crore. It was scheduled to be completed by May 2020, but was delayed by a few months due to the Covid-19 pandemic The tunnel holds a strategic advantage as well. While it will be a boon to the residents of the Lahaul and Spiti Valley who remain cut off from the rest of the country in winters for nearly six months due to heavy snowfall, the tunnel will provide almost all-weather connectivity to the troops stationed in Ladakh.
The unique features of this tunnel begin a fair distance away from it on the approach roads to the north and south portals. Bridges in rivers on the approach to the tunnel from both the portals have also been completed and are now being painted. Snow galleries have also been built at the approach road to the tunnel from Manali side, and this will ensure all-weather connectivity.
Other features include an emergency escape tunnel under the main tunnel. This would provide an emergency exit in case of any untoward incident 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 every one km, broadcasting system and automatic incident detection system with CCTV cameras every 250 metres.
Meanwhile, residents of Lahaul are hoping that its inauguration will give a fresh impetus to tourism and winter sports in Lahaul. According to the state tourism department data, Lahaul-Spiti district records the least tourist footfall among the 12 districts of the state. In 2018, 1.33 lakh tourists visited the district while more than 30 lakh did so in neighbouring Kullu.
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