Work on Himachal Pradesh's nine-km long Rohtang tunnel, close to the China border, will start early next month, an official said in Shimla on Wednesday.
The horseshoe shaped tunnel, under the Rohtang Pass, will provide all-weather connectivity to the state's Lahaul and Spiti districts that remain cut off from the rest of the country for more than four months owing to the closure of the pass due to heavy snowfall.
"Work on the construction of Rohtang tunnel will start by the second week of June," Border Roads Organisation (BRO) chief engineer (Rohtang tunnel project) P.K. Mahajan told IANS.
The BRO is controlled by the central government, and constructs and maintains road links along the international border.
Mahajan said the project is likely to be completed within five years.
The central cabinet committee on security in September 2009 approved Afcons Infrastructure, in collaboration with European firm Strabag, as the building contractor for the tunnel.
The foundation stone of the tunnel was laid by then prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in 2002.
The cabinet committee has approved Rs.1,450 crore for the project.
The tunnel, some 300 km from Shimla, will reduce the distance by road between Manali and Leh in Jammu and Kashmir by 40 km. At present, the distance between the two is 475 km.
The Manali-Leh highway winds its way through the Rohtang Pass (13,050 feet), Baralacha Pass (16,020 feet), Lachlungla Pass (16,620 feet) and Tanglangla (17,480 feet).
It also plays an important role in the movement of the armed forces to the forward areas in Ladakh.
Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal said the construction of tunnel will play an important role in boosting economic activity in the Lahaul Valley.
"It will enable farmers of the Lahaul Valley to transport their produce to other areas of the state throughout the year," he said.
The valley is known for producing disease-free seed potatoes with a major chunk of the crop being procured by potato-growing states like West Bengal, Bihar and Karnataka.
Other crops in the valley are peas and cauliflower. Fruits like apple, pear, apricot, almond and plum are also grown there.