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9 years after Atal announced,work will begin on the Rohtang tunnel

To secure round-the-year lines of communication to eastern Ladakh,the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) early this month...

Written by Amitav Ranjan | New Delhi |
September 20, 2009 4:30:50 am

To secure round-the-year lines of communication to eastern Ladakh,the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) early this month approved Afcons Infrastructure,in collaboration with European firm Strabag,as the building contractor for the 8.8-km-long Rohtang tunnel.

The approved cost of the project now stands at Rs 1,450 crore. Deadline: end of 2014.

This comes nearly nine years after then PM Atal Behari Vajpayee laid the foundation for the tunnel on June 3,2000. The UPA Government selected Afcons-Strabag from three bidders on September 7 — Gammon India and L&T were the other two.

The horse-shoe tunnel,at a height of 3,000-3,100 m,will ensure the 3,978-m-high Rohtang Pass will be open all year. At present,the pass is blocked between November and May by heavy snow. Lying on the Manali-Leh axis,this is the only route to Ladakh as the other route through the Zoji La pass on the Srinagar-Drass-Kargil-Leh highway also gets blocked by snow for nearly four months in an year. These two routes are vital to feed military supplies into the sub-sector west (facing Aksai Chin) and the Siachen Glacier.

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Rohtang tunnel was identified as one of the top priorities by Shyam Saran,Prime Minister’s special envoy,as part of his border infrastructure project report. He suggested alternative routes for Baralacha La and Tanglang La,too — both high mountain passes that lie on the route to Leh and beyond.

Government sources told The Sunday Express that the Defence Ministry had to come back to the CCS on the Rohtang tunnel as the original in-principle approval was given in September 2003 for Rs 880 crore with the proviso that after tendering — but before award of the contract — it would have to approach the apex body with firm figures.

It is learnt that before tendering,the Ministry hired an international consultant to assess the cost and time schedule. The consultant estimated the cost at around Rs 1,350 crore. Add to this 8 per cent as the consultant’s fee and the project’s cost was pegged at little over Rs 1,400 crore. When tenders were opened,the lowest bid was Afcons’s Rs 1,450 crore. Early this month,Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Prem Dhumal met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and discussed the need to speed up the tunnel’s construction and build a broad gauge railway line to Leh.

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