China’s irritation over India’s rapid infrastructure development close to the borders has not stopped New Delhi from bolstering its road connectivity.
After new roads, at least 10 tunnels running up to 100 km are planned in Ladakh and Kashmir to facilitate smooth movement of military and civilian vehicles all through the year across mountain passes to forward locations, officials privy to developments said.
Some of these are at heights more than 17,000 feet making it a challenging task.
Atal Tunnel at 10,000 feet in Rohtang was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on October 3 not only shortening travel time between Manali in Himachal Pradesh and Leh, Ladakh but giving 12-month connectivity to people of Lahaul and Spiti in the hill state.
Officials said Border Roads Organisation (BRO) has proposed eight tunnels that will enhance connectivity to Ladakh, a couple of similar projects are also planned for Kashmir linking roads to the Line of Control.
Last week 44 bridges built by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) ready for use were inaugurated by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh.
The proposed tunnels are now a must for all weather connectivity.
Zojila Tunnel at 11,500 feet
While the work for construction of 14 km tunnel has already started at Zojila Pass at more than 11,500 feet that will keep Srinagar connected to Leh all year round has immense strategic importance but it will also be a boost for civilians who get cut off during the winter.
The tunnel will keep Srinagar connected with Kargil, Dras and Leh through the year
Indian army solider stands guard at the snow-cleared Srinagar-Leh highway in Zojila (Source: Getty Images)
The current tensions with China in Ladakh have prompted a relook at the current strategy and expedited several infrastructure projects.
“Without tunnelling, all-weather connectivity is not possible because of the heavy snow. The tunnels have been planned keeping in mind the need for road connectivity to the forward most locations,” said an official.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had laid the foundation stone of the project in May 2018. The over 4,500 crore project was announced in 2018.
Tunnel for alternate route to DBO at 17,800 feet Among the proposed tunnels one at 17,800 feet needed on the crucial road that will provide an alternate connectivity to Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) and Depsang Plains in Easten Ladakh in addition to existing road. The work on the original DBO road was one of the triggers for the current India-China standoff.
“A tunnel of about 10 km is needed at Saser La to ensure the 100 km alternate route to DBO can be used through the year. 50 km stretch from Sasoma to Saser La is almost complete but a tunnel is a must beyond this,” said an official privy to the details of the project.
DBO and Depsang are areas where there has been a huge build-up amid the current tensions that started in early May.
With the tunnel the 25 km distance between Saser-Brengasa to Murgo where work has started and 6-7 km road formation has taken place will be reduced to 10 km.
The road will also provide better connectivity between Siachen Glacier and DBO in Eastern Ladakh and is considered important for strategic purposes as it will allow easy movement of troops between the two militarized zones.
Tunnels at Khardung La and Chang La at more than 17,580 ft
The seven-kilometer Khardung La Tunnel connecting Nubra Valley and Leh would improve connectivity to the forward areas close to the LAC.
Nubra Valley is a strategically important area of Ladakh bordering both China and Pakistan including the famous Siachen Glacier, besides being a tourist attraction.
The road connecting Nubra to Ladakh by Khardugngla is considered the highest motorable road in the world but is cut off due to heavy snow for five to six months.
The area is also accident-prone as is prone to avalanches and is considered a highly glaciated road.
G Kishan Reddy, Minister of State for Home last week interacted with workers at the project during his visit to Ladakh on an election campaign.
Like Khardung La, Chang La is also a dangerous road due to the terrain and weather and is cut off in the winter. The 8 km tunnel at the pass connecting Karu to Tangste in Ladakh 17,580 ft will ensure all-weather movement to areas close to the Pangong Lake, the focus of the current tensions with China that has emerged as the biggest flashpoint.
Tunnels on Manali- Leh highway
After the Atal Tunnel there are at least four more such projects at heights between 16,000 and 17,000 plus feet being planned for better connectivity between Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh that will also be a boost to the civilians living in these areas. But officials say there are several challenges that need to be overcome to achieve the task.
For year-round connectivity to Ladakh, another tunnel at one of the mountain passes Shnku La is in the pipeline on the Nimmu-Darcha-Padam Road. The seven-kliometre tunnel is being planned at a height of 16,703 ft.
“The 5 km tunnel is planned at Shinku La (pass). It might take another three years. But once it’s complete it will provide all-weather connectivity to Ladakh,” Lt Gen Harpal Singh Director General Border Roads Organisation told India Today TV after the inauguration of Atal Tunnel on October 3.
While the Nimmu-Padam-Darcha route provide alternate connectivity to Ladakh is almost complete a tunnel at the pass is a must to ensure unhindered movement during winter when there is heavy snowfall.
The other tunnels on the Manali-Leh road planned are at Baralacha Pass at 16,000 feet and 13.7 km long on the Manali- Sarchu Road. The 14.7 km long tunnel at Lachung Pass at 16,600 feet and 7.32 km at Tanglang Pass, 17, 480 feet.
Tunnels for all year round connectivity to LoC
There are at least two tunnels being planned for improving connectivity in Kashmir leading up to the Line of Control.
An 18 km tunnel at Razdan Pass at a height of 11,672 ft is required for connectivity to Gurez. Another 6 km tunnel at Sadhna Pass at a height of 10,269 feet is in the pipelines to ensure all-weather connectivity to Tangdhar.
Both the forward locations in North Kashmir get cut off in the winter and are prone to ceasefire violations and infiltration bids and are crucial for the army’s operations.
Edited by Shantanu K. Bansal