Delay hits Sela tunnel project in Arunachal Pradesh

Updated on Dec 01, 2022 01:26 AM IST

The Sela tunnel project in China-bordering Arunachal Pradesh, one of the key elements of India’s big infrastructure push in forward areas, has been hit by delay and is now expected to be completed only by April 2023, officials familiar with the development said on Wednesday, asking not to be named.

The Sela tunnel will allow faster deployment of weapons and soldiers to forward areas in the Tawang sector. (AFP)
The Sela tunnel will allow faster deployment of weapons and soldiers to forward areas in the Tawang sector. (AFP)
ByRahul Singh, New Delhi

The Sela tunnel project in China-bordering Arunachal Pradesh, one of the key elements of India’s big infrastructure push in forward areas, has been hit by delay and is now expected to be completed only by April 2023, officials familiar with the development said on Wednesday, asking not to be named.

The tunnel will allow faster deployment of weapons and soldiers to forward areas in the Tawang sector.

The earlier deadline for the completion of the 700-crore project was June 2022, which was later revised to November, said one of the officials cited above. The reasons for the delay vary – from a prolonged winter slowing down construction activity earlier this year to technical aspects such as delay in concrete setting inside the tunnel now, HT has learnt.

“There’s been some delay in the concreting part as we are not getting the right setting cycles inside the tunnel. In other areas, concrete setting happens in 24 hours but here it is taking up to four days before the shutters can be moved. This is because of the peculiarity of the area, terrain, cold and the humidity profile,” said a second official.

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The Sela tunnel, announced by the government in 2018, will be the longest twin-lane tunnel above 13,000 feet in the world, and will cut down travel time to Tawang by at least one hour as well as provide all-weather connectivity. Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation of the project in 2019. It is being executed by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO).

BRO doesn’t want to push the finishing work as construction quality is the foremost priority, the officials said.

The project consists of Tunnel 1, which is 980 metres long, and Tunnel 2, a 1,555-metre twin tube tunnel. The tunnels are coming up through two ridges west of Sela. It also includes the construction of two roads, measuring 7 km and 1.3 km. Tunnel 2 has one bi-lane tube for traffic and one escape tube for emergencies. Only tunnels longer than 1,500 metres need to have an escape passage alongside.

The tunnels will be ready by February 2023, and the roads by April 2023, marking the culmination of the project, the officials added.

Winter connectivity to Tawang over the 14,000-foot pass, Sela, posed a logistics challenge for the army for decades, with the movement of men, weapons and stores severely affected for at least three to four months in a year.

India is building infrastructure at a rapid pace in eastern Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh with focus on better living experience and improved facilities for soldiers, conservation of modern weapons and equipment deployed there, and supporting faster movement of men and material to deal with any contingency in the midst of the lingering border standoff with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

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The Sela tunnel is a part of the Balipara-Charduar-Tawang road, one of the key strategic projects near the Chinese border.

“Once the tunnel is ready, the road will remain open for all 12 months, it will allow speedy military deployment for the reserves, and the population will no longer get cut off from the mainland,” military affairs expert Lieutenant General Shokin Chauhan (retd) earlier said.

More than 50 engineers and 500 workers are directly involved in the construction of the Sela tunnel, using latest Austrian tunneling techniques, which involve observing and studying the rock, and designing tunnel support according to rock behaviour.

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