The Atal Tunnel in Rohtang, which opened recently, is the world’s largest motorable tunnel at 3,000m (10,000ft above sea level). It reduces the distance between Manali and Leh by 45 km and saves travel time by 5 hours. It is the first to have an escape tunnel within the main tunnel, and as an all-weather tunnel it will facilitate economic prosperity and boost tourism in Lahaul and Spiti.
The development work was undertaken by BRO and others. It is a joint venture of Strabag, an Australian construction company and Afcons, a part of the Shapoorji Palloni ji Group, which has executed 350 infra projects in more than 22 countries.
Massive Increase in Funds for Border Roads
In a significant ramp up of border road network in the context of the ongoing border standoff with Chinese troops, the road transport and highways ministry has increased four-fold the allocation for development and maintenance of NHs in border areas (to be managed by BRO) from Rs 30 crore to 121 crore in a year. The ministry has also increased the ceiling for sanction of new NHs works in border areas. In Ladakh, for example, works up to Rs 589 crore can be approved against the earlier cap of Rs 72 crore. This comes at a time when the government is accelerating the development works in the newly created Union Territory and in the wake of critical border issues with China.
Border Areas Development Programme: Need of the hour
The programme has been allocated Rs 784 crore for the fiscal 2020-21. It stipulates that 10 percent of the allocated fund will be additional allocation to states and UTs abutting the Indo-China border. The Development Programmed would help and encourage people to stay in the border areas which would be made more safe and secure.
It is heartening to report that construction of incomplete road projects in the border areas has already begun, and the existing road network is being strengthened. Responding to the urgent call of the BRO, the Centre has decided to move around 15,000 migrant workers through 15 special trains to the construction sites in Ladakh, J&K, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand, to assist the BRO to complete over 61 road projects by December 2020.
BRO operates and maintains over 32,885 km of roads and about 12,200 meters of permanent bridges in the most difficult locations. The highpoint of the recent development work in the border areas was the inauguration of 44 bridges (spanning 30 to 484 meters) to link border areas at a cost of Rs 286 crore and the virtual laying of the foundation stone for the proposed 450-m Nechiphu tunnel on the road to Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh. Eight bridges are located in Ladakh, including a crucial one over the Shyok river on the Darbunk Shyok – Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) road; 10 are in J&K; 2 in Himachal Pradesh; 2 in Punjab; 4 in Sikkim; and 8 are in Arunachal Pradesh.
Undertaking such projects in the Himalayan region presents a challenge to human endurance and expertise which has been accomplished most successfully. The country pays a befitting tribute to our engineers who are working against geological odds and in the most difficult terrains and climatic conditions. Our engineers have established new benchmarks in innovative design and construction and undertaken rehabilitation of old bridges, thereby setting the pace for many such constructions in the country. As the region’s old saying goes: Nature steps aside for men who never stop.
While construction work in the controversial locations has rattled the Chinese authorities, it has brought us a deep sense of achievement and pride. In Doklam, our people stalled a road construction by the Chinese as it would have adversely affected our strategic interest. While diplomatic efforts to ease the situation continue, it is imperative to further strengthen our border infrastructure if we are to contain China’s aggressive stand on building its own road network, while opposing India’s border development work as per our national interests. “There will be no let-up in infrastructure development on the Indian side of the LAC,” maintains the government.