The defence ministry has asked the Border Road Organisation (BRO) to take “appropriate” measures for early completion of the strategic Rohtang tunnel project, which was scheduled to be completed by February 2015.
Defence minister Arun Jaitley has asked the BRO to take up measures to speed up the project, aimed at providing all-weather connectivity to forward areas bordering China. The BRO, which functions under the defense ministry, is building the crucial tunnel in collaboration with Strabag-Afcons, a joint venture between India's Afcons Infrastructure Limited and Strabag SE of Austria.
The foundation of the dream project -- considered to the one of the engineering marvels in the country -- was laid on June 28, 2010 by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi.
However, the engineers working on the project are facing new challenges that are creating hurdles in the early completion of the project. The continuing water seepage has impacted the boring works on the south portal of the tunnel at Dhundhi, 25 km uphill from the famous tourist town of Manali.
“The civil works of the tunnel are in progress and the construction of about 4.16 km tunnel has been achieved,“ Arun Jaitley has said in reply to a letter by Ravi Thakur, vice-chairman of the National Commission of Scheduled Tribes, who is the Congress legislator from Lahual and Spiti.
In his reply, Jaitley apprised Thakur of the difficulties being faced by the engineers. “However, certain difficulties, such as significant change in the rock class, compared to what was initially assumed as severe tunneling conditions in some portion are being encountered,” said Jaitley.
Thakur, in his letter, had expressed fear that the company entrusted with the project will miss its deadline fixed for February 15, 2015.
“The construction of tunnel was expected to be completed by February 2015. But it is seen that progress of the construction is lagging behind and is not likely to be completed by this date since more than half the work is still to be completed,“ Thakur had said in the letter.
Thakur was also critical of the reasons put forth by the company for the delay in the construction of tunnel. “The reasons put forth by the company responsible for the construction is the inclement weather of the area and heavy snowfall during the winters. However, this kind of weather was prevalent in the area when the work was awarded and this could have been taken into account,” he added.
The total length of the horse shoe-shaped tunnel is 8.8 km. As per the latest information, the engineers have been able to cut through a total stretch of 4.39 km while from the north portal, 2.17 km of the tunnel has been bored.
The delay in the project is likely to escalate the project cost by another Rs 500 crore. The total project cost at the time of its inception was estimated at `1700 crore. From the south portal, only 2.22 km stretch has been constructed.
The tunnel is being bored under the 13,044-feet high Rohtang Pass that remains snow-bound in winters for over six months, cutting off the tribal Lahaul-Spiti valley in Himachal Pradesh and also the strategically vital Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir .
The Rohtang tunnel project was first conceived in 1983 when it was propose to develop the Manali-
Sarchu-Leh road to an all-weather alternate route for strategic considerations and a preliminary study was conducted in 1984 in consultation with the Geological Survey of India (GSI) and the Manali-based Snow and Avalanche Studies Establishment (SASE).
The ambitious Rohtang tunnel project was the brainchild of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, for which the detailed feasibility study was approved at a meeting of the Border Roads Development Board (BRDB) on January 14, 1987, presided over by none other than Rajiv Gandhi himself.