Context: Proactive measures are being taken by Border Roads Organisation (BRO), Ministry of Defense to complete the work on strategic Atal Tunnel in the Pir Panjal ranges of Himachal Pradesh.
- The Rohtang Tunnel, which will connect Manali in Himachal Pradesh with Leh, Ladakh, and Jammu Kashmir, will be known as Atal Tunnel.
- The tunnel is expected to be ready for an official inauguration by September 2020.
- Atal Tunnel is being constructed since Manali-Sarchu-Leh road remains closed for six months every year due to Rohtang Pass being completely snow bound between November and May.
Why Atal Bihari Vajpayee?
- The decision to construct a strategic tunnel below the Rohtang Pass was taken by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
How long is the tunnel, and what is special about it?
- Upon completion, the 8.8 km-long tunnel will be the world’s longest highway tunnel at an altitude of above 10,000 feet (3,000 metres).
- It is a 10.5 m-wide single tube, a bi-lane tunnel with a fireproof emergency tunnel built into the main tunnel itself.
- Cutting through the mighty Pir Panjal range, the tunnel will reduce the distance between Manali and Leh/Lahaul Valley by 46 kilometres.
- It will also provide all-weather connectivity to remote border areas of Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh, which otherwise remained cut off from the rest of the country for about six months.
- The project has significant strategic implications for the military.
- Once the tunnel is operational, the forces will have access beyond the Rohtang Pass even in peak winter.
So, is all-winter connectivity to Ladakh around the corner?
- No, that goal is still some years away. More tunnels will have to be built to tackle the high passes which fall beyond Rohtang.
- Rohtang connects the Kullu Valley with the Lahaul and Spiti Valleys of Himachal Pradesh.
- While Rohtang Pass is at a height of 13,050 feet, the pass on the road to Leh is Baralacha La at 16,040 feet. A 13.2-km long tunnel would be required to bypass this pass.
- Further down the highway comes Lachung La Pass at 16,800 feet, that will require a 14.78 km-long tunnel to provide all-weather connectivity.
- Thereafter falls the Tanglang La pass at 17,480 feet, which will need a 7.32 km-long tunnel.