It is an engineering marvel against all odds. The Atal Tunnel project has been completed at a cost of over Rs 3,200 crore, which is over three times the initial value but it now reduces the distance between Manali and Leh by 46 km.
Due to heavy snowfall and adverse climatic conditions which included landslides, for all adventurists who long for a drive experience from Manali to Leh, Ladakh had remained out of bounds for about six months every year until this year. Prime Minister Modi on Saturday inaugurated the new tunnel that promises a Manali to Leh drive all through the year.
This tunnel was conceptualised by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee about two decades ago and the idea was to construct the strategic tunnel below the Rohtang Pass on June 3, 2000 and the foundation for the same was laid on May 26, 2002. In 2019, the government decided to name the tunnel after former PM Vajpayee to honour the contribution made by him.
This 9.2 kilometers long Atal tunnel, arguably the longest highway tunnel in the world, promises to reduce the travel time by about four to five hours. The speed limit for cars using the tunnel has been set from 40 to 80 kmph at different spots.
It is yet another example of the Border Roads Organisation’s (BRO) expertise in making and maintaining roads at such high altitudes which is over 10000 feet above sea level. It took them ten years to give the tunnel its final shape. The BRO had to overcome major geological, terrain and weather challenges that included the most difficult stretch of the 587-metre Seri Nalah Fault Zone.
The tunnel was constructed with 12,252 metric tonnes of steel, 1,69,426 metric tonnes of cement and 1,01,336 metric tonnes of concrete. BRO had to excavate 5,05,264 metric tonnes of soil and rocks by adopting the latest Austrian tunneling method for construction.
KP Purushothaman, Chief Engineer at Border Roads Organisation, was quoted by media saying, "This is a very proud moment not only for BRO but for the whole country. The hard work put in by BRO in the last 10 years is reaching the final stage. This tunnel is an example of Atmanirbhar Bharat."
From the South end, this tunnel begins from Dhundhi, a place 25 kilometers away from Manali, and ends at near Teling village in Lahaul valley in the north. The horseshoe-shaped, double-lane tunnel has an overhead clearance of more than five metres, which means even big and heavy trucks can comfortably pass through it. The tunnel can handle around 3,000 cars and 1,500 trucks every day and has all safety, escape route and communication facilities in case of any emergencies. This will help the trade and tourism to develop in that area and also help the supplies to our armed forces reach faster and easier.
On safety features the tunnel has telephone connections at every 150 metres for emergency communication, fire hydrant mechanisms at every 60 metres, auto incident detection system with CCTV cameras at every 250 metres, air quality monitoring at every kilometer, evacuation lighting, exit signs and broadcasting system throughout the tunnel among others.
However, there were two issues during the inauguration which clearly was observed by many who watched the live telecast of this programme. As part of the inauguration ceremony, Modi walked in the tunnel and took a ride in it in an open-vehicle. But footage that emerged of him waving in the seemingly empty tunnel prompted a burst of humour on social media. Who exactly was he waving at and why was he doing so, many wanted to know.
Secondly, the conspicuous absence of Nitin Jairam Gadkari who is the current minister for Road Transport and Highways has raised many eyebrows politically. In fact Gadkari, lately has not been seen in media and his absence in such a large and important project inauguration is telling many stories why he has been kept away from any limelight.