With Atal Tunnel, formerly known as the Rohtang Tunnel on the Manali-Leh highway, set to be opened for traffic this month-end, the Centre has set the ball rolling for the construction of another high-altitude tunnel under the 16,730-ft-high Shinku La (pass) in Himachal Pradesh.

The National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL) under the ministry of road, transport and highways has speeded up the detailed project report (DPR) work on the 13.5-km Shinku La Tunnel connecting the Union Territory of Ladakh and tribal Lahaul and Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh.

The high-level team led by KK Pathak, managing director, NHIDCL, along with Sanjeev Malik, executive director, visited the north and south portals of Shinku La tunnel on Thursday.

The team drove from Leh via Padum to the north and south portals of Shinku La in two days, travelling almost 12 hours a day.

Though Shinku La has no glacier, it is prone to avalanches during the snow season that hampers vehicular movement.

Three years ago, Border Roads Organisation (BRO) completed the 39.6 km stretch connecting Lahaul valley with Zanskar. The stretch connecting Darcha with Shinku La drastically reduces the distance between Manali and Leh.

The road is not only of strategic importance as it provides easier access areas on the Indo-China border but also comes as a relief for the 15-odd villages in Zanskar valley where residents have to walk for five to six days to either reach Leh or Manali.

The BRO has already conducted feasibility studies to bore a tunnel under the 11,575-ft Zoji La connecting Srinagar and Leh. Zoji La is the second highest pass after Fotu La on the Srinagar-Leh highway, which often remains closed during winter.

In 1948, Pakistani raiders had laid siege to Zoji La in their campaign to reach Ladakh but it was regained by the Indian forces after a fierce battle.

Anand Kumar Pahal, executive director at BRO’s regional office in Srinagar accompanied Pathak, who stressed on speeding up the project work before October 15 in view of heavy snowfall in the area.

ATAL TUNNEL AWAITS INAUGURATION

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to dedicate the 9.2-km Atal Tunnel that connects Manali with Leh, the world’s longest high-altitude tunnel above 10,000 feet, to the nation by this mont-end. Work on the tunnel has been completed in 10 years, whereas the original estimated time was less than six years.

The ₹32,000-crore tunnel will shorten the 474-km distance between Manali and Leh by 46km, which means the eight-hour journey will be cut by two-and-a-half hours.

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