For children of Lahaul and Spiti, Rohtang turns a tunnel of hope
As the local population is dependent on state-run chopper services in the winter months because heavy snowfall blocks access to area, the Himachal government’s health department was in a fix when bad weather prevented flights from taking off.
It was a critical mission. Children of the remote tribal district of Lahaul and Spiti were about to miss their polio drops because of bad weather leading to suspension of chopper flights.
That is until the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) stepped in and decided to despatch the vaccines through the under-construction Rohtang tunnel.
As the local population is dependent on state-run chopper services in the winter months because heavy snowfall blocks access to area, the Himachal government’s health department was in a fix when bad weather prevented flights from taking off. The children were to be given the vaccines on February 4, part of a statewide pulse polio campaign.
An urgent request to BRO got a quick response – the vaccine was to be transported to its destination through the under-construction Rohtang tunnel. The BRO allowed the health department staff to use the 8.8-km tunnel and the children got their drops on time.
“807 children have been administered the drops,” the district’s deputy commissioner Ashwani Chaudhary said when contacted, adding that some patients requiring emergency treatment also travelled through the tunnel five days ago. “Defence agency BRO made it possible for us to carry out the pulse polio campaign. We will achieve our set 100% target by today (Monday),” chief medical officer DD Sharma said.
The second phase of the campaign will be carried out in March.
Work in progress
The BRO, which is executing the tunnel project, achieved a breakthrough at both ends of the tunnel in October last year – at Sissu in the north and Dhundhi in the south. The tunnel will shorten the 474-km distance between Manali and Leh by 46 km, which means the eight-hour journey will be cut down by two-and-a-half hours.
Speed limits in the tunnel are restricted to 80km per hour or 50mph. The tunnel will accelerate troop mobility to the strategic frontiers in Jammu and Kashmir, besides providing a road link to Lahaul and Spiti in winter.
The horse-shoe shaped road tunnel will be functional for emergency vehicles through this winter but will get fully operational by August 15, 2019. The project, started in 2010, and was to be completed in February 2015, but water ingress from Seri Nullah, ban on rock mining, delay in allotment of land needed for quarrying, and loose rock strata in the middle led to a slowdown.
The BRO this time continues working on both the south and north portal even after the closure of Rohtang pass. Usually, work is halted in winter when Rohtang Pass is cut off from the rest of the world due to snowfall.
The estimated cost of the project in 2010 was Rs 1,700 crore. It was revised to Rs 2,000 crore in 2015 and now the projected cost by 2019 is Rs 4,000 crore.
Conceived in 1998, the project was announced by then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on June 3, 2000. The work was entrusted to BRO on May 6, 2002. United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi laid the foundation stone of the project on June 28, 2010.