Manali, Nov 21 (IANS) Heavy snowfall has partially paralysed the construction of the strategically important Rohtang tunnel in Kullu district of Himachal Pradesh, an official said Sunday.
‘Excavation work of the tunnel on north portal that lies towards Lahaul and Spiti has been stopped altogether due to recent massive snowfall in the area and closure of roads linking to the site. It will restart in April-May,’ Border Roads Organisation (BRO) Chief Engineer (Project Rohtang) P.K. Mahajan told IANS.
He said work on south portal that lies towards Dhundi near Manali would continue.
‘We have speeded up the work on south portal at Dhundi. More than 175 men are working day and night to carry out excavation. Though this area has also experienced snowfall and will get heavy spells in the coming weeks, we are hopeful to carry out the work throughout the winter due its easy accessibility with other areas,’ he said.
The BRO has deployed enough men and machinery on the roads linking to the tunnel’s south portal, located at an altitude of 10,500 ft, to maintain the movement of vehicles.
‘We are experimenting for the first time to work under such extreme cold conditions. We are sure that work on south portal will not be hampered even after receiving heavy snowfall,’ Mahajan added.
Another BRO official said about 100 metres of the tunnel has been excavated on south portal and around 20 metres on north portal.
The BRO, a wing of the central government that constructs and maintains crucial road links along the international borders, has been tasked with the construction of the Rohtang tunnel that lies beneath the Rohtang Pass.
The foundation stone of the 8.80-km-long horseshoe shaped tunnel that will link this town with Keylong, district headquarters of Lahaul and Spiti, was laid by Congress president Sonia Gandhi June 28.
The tunnel will ensure all-weather connectivity to Lahaul and Spiti district that otherwise remains cut off from the rest of the country for more than five months owing to the closure of the Rohtang Pass (13,050 feet) due to heavy snowfall.
It will also reduce the distance between Manali and Leh in Jammu and Kashmir by approximately 48 km and will save about four hours of travel time.
Currently, the 475-km-long Manali-Leh National Highway-21 passes through the Rohtang Pass.
The central cabinet committee on security September 2009 approved Afcons Infrastructure, in collaboration with European firm Strabag, as the building contractor for the tunnel that will be completed by the year 2015.
The cabinet committee has approved Rs.1,495 crore for the project, located some 300 km from Shimla.