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World’s longest highway tunnel opened in Himachal Pradesh

Prime Minister Narendra Modi (C) with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh(R) and Himachal Pradesh CM Jai Ram Thakur during the inauguration of Atal tunnel, in Manali on October 3, 2020.   | Photo Credit: PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday inaugurated the Atal Tunnel at Rohtang at an altitude of above 3,000 metres in Himachal Pradesh. After the inauguration, he said the tunnel would provide new strength to the country’s border infrastructure. 

The 9.02 km-long-tunnel, built by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), is the world’s longest highway tunnel and connects Manali to Lahaul-Spiti valley. It provides all-weather connectivity to the landlocked valley of Lahaul-Spiti, which remains cut-off for nearly six months in a year as the Rohtang Pass is uually snow-bound between November and April.

Before the tunnel construction, the Lahaul Valley used to remain closed for vehicular movement due to bad weather conditions. But 

Thanks to the tunnel, the people of the Valley will have round-the-year road connectivity. The tunnel reduces the distance by 46 km between Manali and Leh and the travel time by about 4 to 5 hours. It is expected to boost tourism and winter sports in the region. The tunnel, also significant from the military logistics viewpoint, will provide better connectivity to the armed forces in reaching Ladakh.

In 2019, The Union Cabinet decided to name the tunnel as ‘Atal Tunnel’ to honour former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee for his contributions. The decision was taken in 2000 when he was the Prime Minister. The foundation stone was laid by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi on June 28, 2010.

World’s longest highway tunnel opened in Himachal Pradesh
 

PM attacks Congress

Mr. Modi accused the Congress-led previous governments of not paying heed to border development projects, thereby compromising the nation’s security interests. “Projects related to improved border connectivity either never came out of the planning stage or those which did, got delayed or stuck. The same happened with Atal Tunnel,” he said. 

“In 2002, Atalji laid the foundation stone for the approach road of this tunnel and after his government was gone, it seemed that work on this tunnel was forgotten. The situation was like that till 2013-2014; work done on the tunnel was only up to 1,300 metres (1.5 km). Experts say that had the work on the tunnel continued at the same pace, it would have been completed perhaps in year 2040”, said Mr. Modi in a veiled attack on the Congress-led UPA governments.

“It was after 2014 that unprecedented pace was given to the project. Every problem faced by the BRO was resolved. The result was that while earlier 300-metre tunnel work was being accomplished every year, it reached 1,400 metres a year. In six years, we completed the work of 26 years,” he said.

‘Economic loss’

Mr. Modi said the delay in completion of key infrastructure-related projects such as the ‘Atal Tunnel’ would only harm the country’s interests. “The delay not just causes inconvenience to people but the country also has to bear the loss on economic front. In 2005, the estimated cost of this tunnel was projected at ₹950 crore, but due to continuous delay, the tunnel has now been completed after spending over ₹3,200 crore,” he noted.

There was a direct relationship between connectivity and the country’s development. “More connectivity means more development. Especially in border areas, the development of connectivity is related to the nation’s security needs. But unfortunately, the seriousness surrounding the connectivity of border development was never shown by previous governments due to lack of strong political will,” he stated.

Just like the ‘Atal Tunnel’, many other important projects across the country had been ignored for long. “In Ladhak’s Daulat Beg Oldi, the airstrip, which is strategically very important, was closed for over 40-50 years. What was the compulsion? What was the pressure? I don’t want to go into details... The truth is that it was due to the strong will of the Air Force that the airstrip started to operate, and there was no ‘political will’ seen behind it,” he said.

“There had been several other such projects that were very important from security and convenience point of view, but for several years they were ignored by previous regimes... these projects were of not just of strategic importance but would have ushered in economic prosperity as well. However, in the last six years, the situation has started to rapidly change. Specially, for connectivity development in the border areas, we have been working with full force. In the Himalayan region- be it Himachal Pradesh, Jammu-Kashmir, Kargil, Leh-Ladhak, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, dozens of such projects have been completed and work on several other projects is being done,” he added.

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Printable version | Nov 24, 2020 1:23:04 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/pm-modi-inaugurates-atal-tunnel-at-rohtang/article32757824.ece

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