The Border Roads Organisation (BRO) has sought land for two-lane tunnels bypassing Sela – a mountain pass at 13,700 ft – to shorten by almost 7km the road to Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, bordering China. This is in keeping with India’s bid for faster access to the Tibet frontier through the tough terrain of the state in the Eastern Himalayas. RS Rao, the commander of the 42 Border Road Task Force under BRO’s Project Vartak, handed over a copy of the approved alignment plan to West Kameng deputy commissioner Sonal Swaroop on July 20. “We have also submitted to the DC a request for initiating land acquisition proceedings so that construction of the tunnels can be taken up on priority,” Rao said. The tunnels, a BRO spokesperson said, would help shave 6.5 km off the 496 km road from Guwahati to Tawang via Bhalukpong on the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border. This translates into saving travel time by close to an hour since the present single-lane road has a number of hairpin bends. Vehicles can move faster when the road widening work under way is done, he added. There’s a shorter but less used road along the Bhutan border via Orang in Assam and Kalaktang in Arunachal Pradesh. Rajib Jyoti SarmaThe gateway to Sela at an altitude of 13,700 ft in Arunachal Pradesh.“The new alignment of the road to Tawang involves 12.37 km and the construction of two tunnels – one 475m and the other 1.79 km long – to bypass Sela and a number of hairpin bends. The altitude of the new alignment will vary between 11,000 and 12,000 ft,” Swaroop told HT from district headquarters Bomdila. The survey for land acquisition will start after the monsoon, she said. Much of the land in Arunachal Pradesh is community-owned, which complicates the process of acquiring land for government projects. The Sela area is sparsely populated. Officials do not envisage challenges, particularly after 152 families of Senge, Nyukmadung and Lish villages – all located between Bomdila and Sela – in West Kameng district were given Rs 42 lakh each in April as compensation for land acquired by the army after the 1962 Chinese attack. “The villagers had to wait 50 years to get compensation, but as they say, it is better late than never,” state chief minister Pema Khandu had said while handing over the chequee to the villagers. Villagers of West Kameng and Tawang districts will be entitled for the compensation for the tunnels. Sela is the boundary between the two districts. Armed forces and district officials did not specify if the existing road – more picturesque from the tourist point of view despite the backbreaking journey – will continue to be used by civilians after the tunnels are made. “First, let the Sela bypass and the tunnels be completed, which is a long time away,” a district officer said. Also in the realm of probability is the train to Tawang after minister of state for railways Manoj Sinha commenced the final location survey for the 378km Bhalukpong-Tenga-Tawang railway in April. The project, if undertaken, could cost the Indian Railways more than Rs 70,000 crore. A broad gauge line exists till Bhalukpong, considered the gateway to Tawang about 290 km away.