The behind-schedule strategic Rohtang tunnel project has hit another roadblock — shortage of construction material.
A ban on environmental clearances to mining has led to this situation at the north portal of the tunnel. Two years ago, Border Roads Organisation (BRO) had sought 5 hectares for mining the rocks required to crush into sand and grit; but the file has been shuttling between the Centre and the state government since. The BRO, which works under Defence Ministry, had sought this land at Chatru, 5 kilometres ahead of Sisu in Lahaul-Spiti district, but failed to get it because of local laws that allow allotment only to tribes.
In August 2014, BRO had approached the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF) and the state government for land. The ministry asked the state to add land to forest in lieu of land for quarrying. The state government had instead offered forestland to the Centre in exchange. The Centre wanted revenue land. “The delay in handing over the land for quarrying has hit the progress of the tunnel project,” a BRO official said on the condition of anonymity. “Rocks and debris from excavation make inferior concrete,” he said.
The tunnelling can be done for only six months, since the Rohtang Pass remains snow-bound in winter, cutting off the tribal Lahaul-Spiti valley and the strategic Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir. The tunnel is being built in collaboration with Strabag-Afcons, a joint venture of India’s Afcons Infrastructure and Austria’s Strabag SE. Congress president Sonia Gandhi had unveiled the foundation stone of this engineering marvel on June 28, 2010.
Spot: Under 13,044-foot-high Rohtang Pass
Total length: 8.8 km
Shape: horse shoe
Stretch cut through: 6 km (3 km each from the north and sought portals)
World’s longest tunnel at 3,000-metre altitude
Conceived in 1998
Announced on June 3, 2000, by then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee
May 6, 2002: Work entrusted to Border Roads Organisation
May 23, 2002: Work inaugurated by PM Vajpayee
Vehicle speed designed for: 80km/h (50mph)
Distance it will save: 60 km between Manali and Keylong (Lahaul-Spiti)
REASONS FOR SLOWDOWN
Water ingress from the Seri Nullah
Ban on rock mining
Land required for quarrying but it cannot be allotted outside tribes
PACE OF EXCAVATION
2015: 51 metres (from the south portal)
2016: 700 metres (through hard rock)
Original deadline: February 2015
Projected delay: Another three years
2010 (original): `1,700 crore
2015: 2,000 cr
2019 (projected): 4,000 cr