Jammu: The “strategic” Rohtang tunnel, christened as Atal Tunnel and connecting Manali to Leh will change the fortunes of the region and help promote tourism, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Wednesday. Speaking at an event held to name the underground motor passage after former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Modi said the project is very important for the country.
“Rohtang Tunnel, connecting Manali in Himachal Pradesh to Leh in Ladakh, will now be known as Atal Tunnel. This strategic tunnel will change the fortunes of this region. It will help in promoting tourism in the region,” he said.
The historic decision to build the tunnel below the Rohtang Pass was taken in 2000 when Vajpayee was the prime minister.
Why named after former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee ?
The decision to construct a strategic tunnel below the Rohtang Pass was taken by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, a government release issued on Wednesday said.
Vajpayee was a regular visitor to Manali and took a keen interest in the project during his tenure. Modi has been keen on the prestigious tunnel, and the work on the project is monitored by the Prime Minister’s Office.
The tunnel is expected to be ready for an official inauguration by September 2020.
How long is the tunnel, and what is special about it?
Upon completion, the 8.8 km-long tunnel will be the world’s longest highway tunnel at an altitude of above 10,000 feet (3,000 metres).
It is a 10.5 m-wide single tube, a bi-lane tunnel with a fireproof emergency tunnel built into the main tunnel itself. The 10.5-m width includes a 1-metre footpath on both sides.
Vehicles will travel at a maximum speed of 80 km per hour inside the tunnel. Up to 3,000 cars and 1,500 trucks are expected to use the tunnel every day.
The under-construction Rohtang tunnel on the Lahaul-Spiti side. (Express photo by Jasbir Malhi)
Cutting through the mighty Pir Panjal range, the tunnel will reduce the distance between Manali and Leh by 46 kilometres, and save crores of rupees in transport costs.
It will also provide all-weather connectivity to remote border areas of Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh, which otherwise remained cut off from the rest of the country for about six months.
The project has significant strategic implications for the military. Once the tunnel is operational, the forces will have access beyond the Rohtang Pass even in peak winter.
What is the status of the work?
The breakthrough from both ends was achieved on October 15, 2017. The tunnel is now nearing completion.
Some 3,000 contractual workers and 650 regular employees of the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) have been working in shifts through 24 hours on the project.
The project might have been completed at least four years earlier, but for a massive torrent of water encountered inside the tunnel.
The Seri Nullah, which flows above the tunnel, almost threatened to derail the project. It took several years to devise ways to tackle the massive flow of water that often went up to 140 litres per second.
The feasibility study for the project had been carried out in May 1990, and the geological report was submitted in June 1994. The design and specification report was submitted in December 1996.
The project received final technical approval in 2003, and CCS approval in 2005. Tenders were floated in 2007, and the foundation stone for the project was laid on July 28, 2010.
The project was originally scheduled to be completed on February 1, 2015.
So, is all-winter connectivity to Ladakh around the corner?
No, that goal is still some years away. More tunnels will have to be built to tackle the high passes which fall beyond Rohtang.
While Rohtang Pass is at a height of 13,050 feet, the pass on the road to Leh is Baralacha La at 16,040 feet. A 13.2-km long tunnel would be required to bypass this pass.
Further down the highway comes Lachung La Pass at 16,800 feet, that will require a 14.78 km-long tunnel to provide all-weather connectivity. Thereafter falls the Tanglang La pass at 17,480 feet, which will need a 7.32 km-long tunnel.
An alternative road link to Ladakh has also been developed by BRO on the Darcha-Padam-Nimu axis, but here again, a 4.15 km-long tunnel at Sinka La Pass (16,703 feet) would be required for all-weather access.
What services will be available inside the Rohtang Tunnel?
*Telephone every 150 metres
*Fire hydrant every 60 metres
*Emergency exit every 500 metres
*Turning cavern every 2.2. km
*Air Quality monitoring every 1 km
*Automatic incident detection system with CCTV every 250 metres