Why Rohtang tunnel is important

Solang (Himachal Pradesh), June 28 (IANS) The Rohtang tunnel, the construction work of which was kickstarted by Congress president Sonia Gandhi Monday, is a key step forward to make the Leh-Manali highway an all-weather passage to the strategic Ladakh region that shares its boundaries with China and Pakistan.

Though the tunnel was conceived first in 1984, the 1999 India-Pakistan Kargil military conflict underlined the importance of having a road link to Ladakh alternative to the Srinagar-Kargil-Leh highway.

The heavy infiltration by Pakistan militants backed by the military in 1999 — when they even occupied some key Indian posts in Kargil — was said to be aimed at cutting the vital Srinagar-Kargil-Leh highway and block supplies to forward area in Ladakh and the Siachen glaciers. The move was to be followed by an intended offensive by Pakistani forces.

The Srinagar-Kargil-Leh highway is close to the Line of Control (LoC), the de facto border between India and Pakistan, and remains vulnerable to cross-border shelling by Pakistan. The shelling, however, has stopped since a 2003 ceasefire agreement between the two countries.

The Rohtang Tunnel, at an altitude of 13,300 feet, is a step towards having the alternate link to Srinagar-Kargil-Leh highway.

The tunnel to come up at the cost of Rs.1,500 crore ($325 million) will reduce the road distance on the Manali-Leh highway by approximately 48 km and will save travel time by about four hours. Some 3,000 light vehicles and 1,500 heavy vehicles can cross the tunnel daily at a speed of 80 kmph.

But the Rohtang Tunnel alone might not be enough to make the Manali-Leh highway an all-weather road, as there are two other major snowbound passes along the way – Baralacha La and Thaglang La.

To overcome this, the Rohtang project envisages constructing a 292-km-long all-weather road, Nimu-Padam-Darcha, via Shinkunla Pass, traversing the remote Zanskar region of Ladakh. This road will constructed at an additional cost of Rs.286 crore, a defence spokesperson said.

The construction of the Rohtang tunnel has been entrusted with the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), India’s premier road building agency that specialises in making roads at some of the highest locations of the world.

(Sarwar Kashani can be contacted at s.kashani@ians.in)

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