DR Ambedkar IAS Academy

The strategic importance of the Atal Tunnel at Rohtang

The Atal Tunnel at Rohtang near Manali is near completion. It is expected to be inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in late September. What are its features?

The Atal Tunnel at Rohtang, near Manali, is almost complete in all respects with finishing touches being given to it before Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurates it late September. The 9-km-long tunnel under the Pir Panjal range, named after former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, will be the world’s longest highway tunnel above the altitude of 10,000 feet (3000 metres). It was scheduled to be completed by May 2020, in a revised estimate, but the Covid-19 pandemic pushed back the completion by a few months due to lockdown conditions.

Rohtang tunnel: What is the genesis of the project?

A feasibility study of the project Rohtang Tunnel was carried out in May 1990 following which the geological report was submitted in June 2004. This was followed by a design and specification report which was prepared and finalised in December 2006. Border Roads Organisation (BRO) officials say the project received final technical approval in 2003. Following approval by Cabinet Committee on Security in 2005, tenders were floated in 2007 and the foundation stone was laid in July 2010 by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi. The project was scheduled to be completed by February 2015 but it got delayed due to unexpected problems. It was originally designed to be 8.8 km long but GPS readings taken on completion show it to be 9 km long.

What were the problems faced by the Rohtang tunnel project?

The construction teams faced fast flowing water from Seri Nullah, which flowed on top of the tunnel route and impeded construction efforts. The sheer volume of water prevented construction for several months while project engineers grappled with a way to tackle the problem. The rock structures faced by the engineers too caused impediments.

What is the strategic advantage of the Rohtang tunnel?

Cutting through the Pir Panjal range, the tunnel will reduce the distance between Manali and Leh by 46 km. The Rohtang Pass, to which the tunnel provides an alternate, is located at a height of 13,050 feet, and a journey from Manali Valley to Lahaul and Spiti Valley, which normally takes around five hours to negotiate, would now be completed in little over ten minutes.

While the tunnel will be a boon to the residents of the Lahaul and Spiti Valley who remain cut off from the rest of the country in winters for nearly six months due to heavy snowfall, the tunnel will provide almost all-weather connectivity to the troops stationed in Ladakh