Manali: “Construction of Darcha to Padam road via Shing0 La Pass to Ladakh would be completed by 2015” said Colonel KP Rajendra Kumar, Commander of the 38th BRTF (Border Road Task Force). He added that the road being constructed would help circumvent the four lofty mountain passes of Baralacha La, Thaglang La, Nakila and Lachung La.
The tunnel set to be constructed under the Shingo La Pass will also reduce the distance on this strategically important road by almost 100 km, making it the shortest route for carrying defense supplies to the border areas of Zanskar and Kargil in Jammu and Kashmir.
“We are undertaking a feasibility study for construction of a tunnel at the Shingo La Pass which will help us bypass the higher areas covered under heavy snow and thereby reduce the distance to Leh by 100 km,” said the Chief Engineer, Project Rohtang. It was on the proposal of the Border Road Organization (BRO) that the Defense Ministry gave the go ahead to undertake feasibility studies for the construction of the tunnel.
The realigned highway will pass through much lower altitude from Darcha to Padam via Shingo La Pass. The Shinku La is avalanche prone and difficult to keep snow free in winter. Border Roads Organization (BRO) has hence decided to construct a tunnel under the Shinku La. This will help in keeping the Manali – Leh Road open in all weather conditions thereby reducing the dependence on the route through Jammu and Kashmir to reach Kargil and Leh.
The fact that the government is willing to spend a huge amount of Rs 1,458 crore on the 8.9-km-long Rohtang tunnel only highlights the strategic importance of the 470 km Manali-Leh road. This route came in very handy for the movement of supplies and forces deployed in the forward areas at the time of the Kargil conflict.
The National Highway NH1A, connecting the Uri, Baramula, Srinagar, Kargil, Leh sectors, came under heavy artillery firing from the Pakistani forces during the Kargil conflict, slowing down the movement of reinforcements being sent for the armed forces.
Sources confirm that following the Kargil conflict, India was keen to have an alternative route which would provide a safe passage to keep its border areas and forces well supplied and battle ready. With Pakistan and China both sharing a turbulent border with India, the geo-strategic importance of the Manali– Leh Highway could no longer be ignored by the Indian establishment. Even though the Rohtang tunnel was conceived way back in 1983 as an alternate route, it was only a few years back that that the Cabinet sub-committee on Security cleared the Rohtang tunnel project.
A preliminary study for the project was conducted in 1984 in consultation with Geological Survey of India (GSI) and the Manali based Snow Avalanche Studies Establishment (SASE). The detailed feasibility study of the tunnel was finally approved in January 1987.
The construction of the Rohtang tunnel will reduce the distance between Manali and Koksar in Lahaul by 46 km and the travelling time by over two hours. It is bound to open up vistas of trade and tourism and ample employment opportunities for the almost 35,000 population of Lahaul and Spiti. In addition, the construction of the Rohtang Tunnel will offer an all weather road for the movement of people and equipment across the tribal areas of Lahaul and Spiti with the rest of Himachal Pradesh.