Himachal polls-2017: Quiet opening to Rohtang tunnel amid election din

Linked: Lahaul Da Milan celebrates ‘freedom from remoteness’ as Himachal’s tribal district will be open to traffic for first time in winter

india Updated: Oct 29, 2017 16:13 IST
Gaurav Bisht
Gaurav Bisht
Hindustan Times, Shimla
Himachal polls-2017,Quiet opening,Rohtang tunnel
Women belonging to Lahaul and Spiti welcoming Tulku Lochen Lama, the head abbot of Key Monastery, at Sissu in Lahaul and Spiti on Friday. (HT Photo)

With the poll code in place in Himachal Pradesh, the 8.8-km long Rohtang tunnel got a quiet opening on Friday. Far from the din, villagers of Lahaul and Spiti district celebrated the breakthrough in a religious way by gathering at Sissu, the north portal of the tunnel. The district, which remains cut off for six months a year, will be open to traffic for the first time this winter.

Rejoicing what they described a freedom from the remoteness, the locals celebrated Lahaul Utsav as the head abbot lit a small lamp at the Key monastery. Tulku Lochen Lama, the head abbot of Key monastery, told Hindustan Times over the phone, “It is a dream come true for us. There is no end to people’s happiness today.”

The Buddhist leader also asked the people to preserve their rich cultural heritage, saying that the tunnel will transform their life.

“The country got freedom 70 years ago, but the people of Lahaul and Spiti have got freedom in true sense today.”Rigzin Hayreppa, a local

“The tunnel is not only strategic from the defence point of view, it will also transform the economy and help end the hardships of people in the region,” said Rigzin Hayreppa, a local.

The function was organised by Rohtang Tunnel Ayojan Samiti, an apolitical front of the locals. In the wake of the election code of conduct, locals managed to keep the celebrations non-political even as local leaders, owing allegiance to Congress and BJP, attempted to derive political mileage and take credit for the tunnel.

“We allowed the gathering at the helipad as it was a non-political function,” said Dewa Singh Negi, deputy commissioner of Lahaul and Spiti. To avoid controversy, officials of the border road organisation, the key agency undertaking the construction of the tunnel, did not participate in the function.

Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman had visited Rohtang tunnel on October 15 to inspect work on the tunnel. On the same day, the border road organisation achieved a breakthrough with the two ends of the tunnel Dhundhi (south portal) and Sissu, north portal, meeting.

“The digging work of the 8.8-kilometre all-weather Tunnel has been completed but civil works is going on and will be completed by 2019,” said a BRO official on the condition of anonymity.

The BRO, along with the locals, had planned a function to mark the breakthrough. However, the code of conduct came into the force on October 13. “ We had planned programme much in advance but somehow it got delayed. We really wanted to celebrate the historic day,”said Prem Singh, a retired police officer who headed the celebrations.

Tunnel to bring down distance between Manali and Leh

The tunnel in Himachal Pradesh will bring down the distance between Manali and Leh by 46 kilometres. Currently, the distance between the two towns is 474 kilometres, which takes six to eight hours to cover. The tunnel will reduce the travel time by two-and-a-half hours. The speed limit in the tunnel is 80km/h or 50mph.

Conceived in 1998, the project was announced by then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on June 3, 2000.

This will help accelerate troop mobility to the strategic frontiers in Jammu and Kashmir, besides providing a road link to Lahaul and Spiti in winter.

At present, people in the tribal district are dependent on the government-run helicopter services 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 will continue working on the north portal even after mid-November. Usually, work is halted in winter when the 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.

First Published: Oct 28, 2017 14:15 IST