Next winters, the Lahaul Spiti tribals of Himachal Pradesh will finally see light at the end of the tunnel.
The majestic Rohtang tunnel, which will give all-weather connectivity to Lahaul Spiti (one of the toughest terrains in the hill state) with the rest of the world, will get ready for inauguration before winters in 2020.
“The tunnel is almost complete. Some important works are left. The Border Roads Organisation (BRO) is at it,” Chief Minister, Jai Ram Thakur told The Statesman.
He said the tunnel would complete in 2020 and will prove a boon for people in Lahaul Spiti. “More such tunnels are proposed en route Leh after Rohtang tunnel in Himachal territory,”Jai Ram Thakur said.
Each year, the Rohtang Pass is officially closed on 15 November. This year, it closed earlier.
Lahaul Spiti district gets road connectivity almost snapped for almost six months with rest of the state due to heavy snowfall on Rohtang Pass, located at a height of 13050 ft, in winter months. Rohtang Pass is at a distance of over 50 kilometres from Manali in Kullu district.
The snowfall on Kunzum Pass, which is at a greater height than Rohtang, disconnects Lahaul valley with Spiti valley within the district, making it tough for the tribals. During winters, most of the people from Lahaul valley shun the harsh life back home and look for warmer shelters in adjoining Kullu district.
The district administration does the required arrangements of food and fuel for people in the tribal areas ahead of winters, and the Lahaul tribals too keep themselves busy with festivals to pass the cold months, when even agriculture is not possible. It is no less than an ordeal for them to stay back in isolation in the tough area in winters, where the temperatures dip to less than minus 20 or 30 degrees Celsius in some parts. The medical emergencies make it hellish for them as they have to keep waiting for helicopter flights, which are uncertain due to inclement weather. (The tribal district has health infrastructure, but no specialist doctors).
However, with mega Rohtang tunnel project nearing completion, the people of Lahaul have started getting some relief.
“The tunnel is through so a Himachal Road Transport Corporation Bus (HRTC) has been started from Manali to Lahaul from the Rohtang tunnel. It will pick people from Lahaul side of the tunnel,” said Agriculture Minister, Ram Lal Markanda, who represents Lahaul Spiti Assembly segment in the state Legislative Assembly.
He said the ventilation and electricity fittings are yet to be done, for which tender has been floated for works measuring up to Rs 200 crore.
The construction of 8.8 kilometre long tunnel Rohtang tunnel (a dream project of former Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee) which by-passes the Rohtang Pass, started in 2010 after any ifs and buts.
The multi-project had a budget of over Rs 4000 crore was earlier scheduled to complete in 2019, but for the tough terrain. Once connected, the Rohtang tunnel would be of strategic importance for the army as well.