The United Progressive Alliance government continues to focus on development of border areas, Sonia Gandhi said on Monday after kick starting the work on the strategically significant Rohtang tunnel project conceptualized by her husband Rajiv Gandhi 26 years ago.
“Our government is committed towards the development of the border areas and for the welfare of people living there, ” said Ms Gandhi, in her address to the public at Solang, while elaborating on the benefits of the Rs 1445 crore tunnel that will provide unhindered road access to the remote regions of Lahaul-Spiti and Ladakh throughout the year, besides reducing the road distance by approximately 48 km and saving travel time of about three hours.
Sonia said the tunnel will open new avenues of income generation for the people living in tribal areas of Lahual, Spiti and Pangi.
UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, in her capacity as the National Advisory Council chief, declared open the tunnel drilling at South Portal, 30 km north of Manali, in the presence of Defence Minister A K Antony, Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister P K Dhumal and Union Steel Minister Virbhadra Singh. Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah cancelled his scheduled visit.
The Border Roads Organization (BRO), a specialized in road and bridge construction in difficult terrains, has estimated to complete the tunneling work and get it ready for vehicle flow before 2015.
The tunnel would have the capacity to bear traffic of about 3,000 cars and 1,500 trucks a day driving at speeds varying from a minimum of 30 kmph to a maximum of 80 kmph.
The Rohtang Pass remains closed for over six months a year due to heavy snowfall, cutting off the Lahaul-Spiti valley and Leh. The drilling of the Rohtang tunnel will reduce the 475-km distance between Manali and Leh by 46 km.
Lauding the Border Road Organization, Ms Gandhi expressed faith on the expertise of the engineers, responsible for construction of the 8.8 kilometers Rohtang Tunnel. Sonia suggested Border Road Organization engineers to take outmost care to prevent environmental damage. “They should remain sensitive to the environment damage,” she said. Sonia Gandhi appreciated the valor of soldiers and ex-servicemen hailing from Himachal saying “UPA government is committed towards the welfare of army and retired soldiers."
Speaking on the ocassion, Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal once again pressed for railway connectivity for the strategic areas of Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir. “Dhumal urged Sonia Gandhi for extending the line from Bilaspur to Manali and Leh. He said that rail connectivity will also boost the tourism in the area. Dhumal said that recently he visited the border areas close to China and said that there was need to give impetus to develop the border regions. “There is threat to the nation from northern side of the Himalayas. During my visit to the border area I could see that the preparations were on full swing in the other side of the borders,” said Dhumal.
Steel Minister Virbhadra Singh supported the demand for railway expansion in the state. While countering Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, Singh said that the Central government was generous towards the state. Minister of State for defence, M M Pallam Raju, who is camped in Manali to oversee the arrangement also spoke on the occasion.