Strategic Rohtang tunnel to miss 2015 deadline – will be ready by 2019

Manali: Delays in construction of Rohtang tunnel, a strategically important infrastructure project that will ensure all-weather connectivity to forward areas in Ladakh that border China and Pakistan will miss its February 2015 deadline.

Rohtang Tunnel is a prestigious defence project being built under the Rohtang Pass, in the Eastern Pir Panjal range of Himachal Pradesh.  The tunnel under construction is of 8.802 Km and will be one of the longest road tunnels in India. Besides providing year round connectivity, this tunnel is expected to reduce the driving distance between Manali and Keylong by about 46 Km.

Highly placed sources disclosed that the delay in executing the project would result in a cost overrun of about Rs 500 crore to Rs 600 crore. Foundation stone for the Rs 1,495-crore ($290 million) Rohtang tunnel’s project was laid by Sonia Gandhi on June 28, 2010 at Solang Valley 13 Kms from here.

“The project is delayed due to tough climatic conditions and geological surprises coming one after another,” said  Lt Gen RM Mittal, AVSM, SM VSM, Director General Border Road disclosed while inaugurating a bridge at Dhundi, yesterday

Mittal said the project was facing high water seepage and loose strata on its south portal. He said the tunnel was likely to be completed by 2019.

Rohtang Tunnel - Work in Progress

Brig Manoj Kumar, Chief Engineer, Project Rohtang Tunnel said so far, 4.1 km of the total 8.8km-long horseshoe-shaped tunnel had been excavated. The tunnel is to pass under the 3,978m Rohtang Pass.

“Till date, Rs 830 crores have been spent. As per estimates, it will need at least Rs 2,000 crore to complete the project,” he added.

The project is being built by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), an organization under the defense ministry, in collaboration with Strabag-Afcons, a joint venture between India’s Afcons Infrastructure Limited and Strabag SE of Austria.

According to  Director 0f Rohtang Tunnel, R.S.Rao, some areas along Rohtang tunnel’s south portal are under 8 to 10ft snow and the minimum temperature is around minus 20° Celsius.

In October last year, the construction work was partially suspended after a portion of the tunnel rooftop collapsed on the south portal. There was no loss of life.

Roa added that they would try to keep work going at the north portal of the tunnel till late winters. “Our motive now is to complete the excavation work by 2017, so that remaining work on the tunnel can be done around the year.”

Sona Gandhi after launching work on Rohtang Tunnel

The Cabinet Committee on Security cleared the Rohtang tunnel project in September 2009. On completion, the tunnel will be a boon for the cold deserts of Lahaul Valley, where more than 20,000 people remain landlocked and cut off from the rest of the country for more than 6 months in winters owing to the closure of the Rohtang Pass.

The tunnel, with a horseshoe shaped cross-section, will be 11.25m wide at road level, providing ample room for two-way traffic, and is designed to cater to a maximum vehicular speed of 80 km per hour.

However, the Rohtang tunnel alone might not be enough to make the Manali-Keylong-Leh highway an all-weather road. There are two other major snowbound passes along the way, Baralacha La and Thaglang La.

To overcome this, the project envisages constructing a 292-km all-weather road, Nimu-Padam-Darcha, via Shinkunla Pass, traversing the remote Zanskar region of Jammu and Kashmir, estimated to cost an additional Rs 286 crore.

Sanjay Dutta, an engineer by qualification but is a journalist by choice. He has worked for the premier new agency Press Trust of India and leading English daily Indian Express. With more than a decade of experience, he has been highlighting issues related to environment, tourism and other aspects affecting mountain ecology. Sanjay Dutta lives in a village close to Manali in Kullu valley of Himachal.

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