Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the world’s longest highway tunnel, the Atal Tunnel at its South Portal in Manali on Saturday. The 9.02 km long tunnel connects Manali to Lahaul-Spiti throughout the year. Earlier, the Spiti Valley was cut off for about six months each year owing to heavy snowfall.
The Atal Tunnel is built with ultra-modern specifications in the Pir Panjal range of Himalayas at an altitude of 3,000 metres (10,000 ft) from the mean sea level (MSL). It reduces the road distance by 46 km between Manali and Leh, and the time by about four to five hours.
The tunnel incorporates state-of-the-art electromechanical safety systems including semi-transverse ventilation, supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) controlled fire-fighting, illumination and monitoring systems.
Prime Minister Modi travelled in the tunnel from the South Portal to the North Portal and also visited the emergency egress tunnel that was built into the main tunnel itself. He also witnessed a pictorial exhibition on the making of the tunnel on the occasion.
In his address, the prime minister termed the day as historic as it not only fulfilled the vision of the former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee but also the decades-old wishes and dreams of millions of people in the region.
He said the Atal Tunnel was going to be a lifeline for a large part of Himachal Pradesh as well as the new union territory of Ladakh and would reduce the distance between Manali and Keylong by three to four hours.
He added that with this improvement in connectivity parts of Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh would witness speedier economic progress. He said farmers, horticulturalists and youth will now also enjoy easy access to the national capital Delhi and other markets.
The prime minister lauded the efforts of the engineers, technicians and workers who risked their lives in making this dream come true.
Avoid Delays in Implementation of Infrastructure Projects
The prime minister said that such border connectivity projects will also aid the security forces in ensuring regular supplies to them and also in their patrolling. He said the Atal Tunnel was also going to give new strength to India’s border infrastructure and would be living proof of world-class border connectivity. He said despite the longstanding demand to improve the infrastructure and overall development of the border areas, planning languished for decades.
He said the late Prime Minister Vajpayee laid the foundation of the approach road for this tunnel in 2002. Thereafter the work was neglected to the extent that only 1,300 metres, i.e., less than 1.5 km of the tunnel could be built till 2013-14, i.e., only about 300 metres each year.
At that time the experts had concluded that if the construction work continued at that pace then the tunnel would be completed only in 2040. The prime minister said that the Central Government then fast-tracked the project and the construction went on at a speed of 1,400 metres each year.
Prime Minister Modi said that infrastructure development should happen at a faster pace when the country needs to progress economically and socially. He said this needs unflinching political will and commitment for the progress of the nation. He added that delays in the completion of such important and major infrastructure projects not only caused financial losses but also deprived people of their economic and social benefits.
He said in 2005, the estimated cost for the construction of the tunnel was about Rs 9 billion. However, due to continuous delays, it was completed at over three times the amount at Rs 32 billion.
The prime minister said many important projects were meted out the same treatment as the Atal tunnel. The strategically important airstrip of Daulat Beg Oldi remained incomplete for over 40 years although the Indian Air Force desperately required a military airstrip in Ladakh.
He said work on the Bogibeel Bridge also started during the time of the Vajpayee government but the work on it languished later. The bridge provides key connectivity between Arunachal and the Northeastern region. He said the work gained unprecedented momentum after 2014 and was inaugurated about two years ago on the occasion of the late prime minister’s birthday.
He said Vajpayee had also laid the foundation stone of Kosi Mahasetu to connect the two major regions of Mithilanchal in Bihar. After 2014, the Central Government expedited the work of Kosi Mahasetu and the bridge was inaugurated a few weeks ago.