Rohtang tunnel named after Vajpayee

Context: Proactive measures are being taken by Border Roads Organisation (BRO), Ministry of Defenseto 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.

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