Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurating the Atal Tunnel as defence minister Rajnath Singh, Himachal Pradesh chief minister Jai Ram Thakur, chief of defence staff General Bipin Rawat and army chief General MM Naravane look on at Rohtang near Manali on Saturday.(PTI photo)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurating the Atal Tunnel as defence minister Rajnath Singh, Himachal Pradesh chief minister Jai Ram Thakur, chief of defence staff General Bipin Rawat and army chief General MM Naravane look on at Rohtang near Manali on Saturday.(PTI photo)

Atal Tunnel is a symbol of Atmanirbhar Bharat, will strengthen border infrastructure: PM Modi

ENGINEERING FEAT The 9.02-km Atal Tunnel running under the 13,050-ft Rohtang Pass on the Manali-Leh axis is the highest motorable highway tunnel in the world.
By Gaurav Bisht | Hindustan Times, Shimla
UPDATED ON OCT 03, 2020 03:04 PM IST

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday inaugurated the strategically important Atal Tunnel, which cuts the distance between Manali and Leh by 46 km and travel time by five hours, and described it as an engineering feat that would strengthen the border infrastructure of India.

Addressing the inaugural ceremony at South Portal after dedicating Atal Tunnel to the nation, Modi said, “Today is a historic day not only because it’s the dream of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee coming true but also because it will end the long wait of the people of tribal Lahaul-Spiti for all-weather connectivity with the rest of the world.”

Defence minister Rajnath Singh, minister of state for finance Anurag Thakur, Himachal Pradesh chief minister Jai Ram Thakur, chief of defence staff General Bipin Rawat, army chief General MM Naravane and Border Roads Organisation director general were present on the occasion.

Modi recalled how he as the in-charge of party affairs in Himachal Pradesh and former chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal would take up the matter of building the tunnel under Rohtang Pass every time Vajpayee visited his summer holiday retreat in Manali.

“Ultimately, it became his (Vajpayee’s) dream and resolve that we are today seeing coming true and I am fortunate to have got the opportunity to dedicate this project to the nation,” Modi said.

LAUDS ROLE OF ENGINEERS, LABOURERS

The Prime Minister bowed to the engineers, jawans and labourers who worked tirelessly, risking their lives and overcoming all challenges, to complete work on the tunnel.

“Often amid the blitz of an inauguration ceremony, people who give their sweat and blood to a project, toiling hard day and night, are forgotten,” the Prime Minister said, adding “I bow to all those who have worked on this project.”

He said that the tunnel would be the lifeline to Lahaul-Spiti in Himachal Pradesh and the Union Territory of Ladakh. “It will cut the travel time to Leh by four hours and people of the hills know what that means. The tunnel will provide farmers and horticulturists all-weather connectivity to the markets, he said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi taking a ride through the Atal Tunnel. (PTI Photo)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi taking a ride through the Atal Tunnel. (PTI Photo)

TAKES DIG AT DELAYS UNDER CONGRESS GOVT

Taking a dig at the previous Congress governments, Modi said that border infrastructure projects in the country had been delayed under their rule. “Vajpayee ji inaugurated the approach road to the tunnel in 2002 and till 2013, only a stretch of 1,300 metres was dug,” he said.

Work was expedited after 2014 and a 1,400 metre-stretch of the tunnel was being dug in a year instead of 300 metres annually earlier. “Experts say that the pace at which the work was going on earlier, it would have been completed by 2040. So, we did 26 years of work in just six years,” he said, adding that this delay escalated the project cost from 950 crore to 3,200 crore.

Not only Atal Tunnel, Modi said, but other projects of national importance whether it was the Bogibeel rail-road bridge or the Kosi Mahasetu project were delayed due to government apathy as they lacked political will.

The PM said that he could count dozens of such projects, the foundation stone of which was laid by Vajpayee, then slowed down, and work on which was expedited after 2014. “The Daulat-Beg-Oldi airfield was closed for more than four decades and was reopened due to the efforts of the Indian Air Force,” he said.

He alleged that previously those who were in power compromised the security of the nation as the armed forces lacked modern fighter jets and there was a dearth of weapons and bulletproof jackets.

“National security is our priority and today weapons are being developed and produced in the country,” he said, adding that the government has even banned import of some articles and these will be produced exclusively in the country.

He said that with the changing global role of India, the country will also have to enhance its economic and strategic capabilities. “The Atal Tunnel is symbol of the self-confidence of Atmanirbhar Bharat,” he said.

WILL UPLIFT AREA’S ECONOMY: HP CM

Speaking on the occasion, Rajnath Singh said that the tunnel will facilitate faster movement of supplies and logistics to the border areas besides giving a fillip to troop deployment.

Dedicating the tunnel to the soldiers and people of the border areas, Singh said that it would also give a boost to the economy and the tourism in the area. “Atal Tunnel is dedicated to the soldiers who sweat it out during peacetime to be war ready,” he said.

Jai Ram Thakur said that Atal Tunnel was a milestone not only for Himachal but for the entire country. “Today, a dream has been realised and it will help uplift the economy of the area,” he said.

SHINKU LA WILL BE READY IN 3 YEARS

The director general, BRO, Lt Gen Harpal Singh said that the tunnel was one of the biggest technical achievements and would give a push to other such projects in the Himalayan region. “The focus of the BRO is now on the Shinku La tunnel that we aim to complete in three years,” he said.

“We faced mighty challenges while constructing the Rohtang Tunnel but it couldn’t deter our resolve and lower our spirit,” he added.

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