After completing and owning the title of the world’s tallest statue, India has now earned a title for having the world’s longest highway tunnel. The Statue of Unity is a 182m tall statue leaving China’s spring Buddha temple behind became the tallest statue of the world; similarly, the Atal tunnel is 9.2 km long became the world’s longest highway tunnel.
After 10 years of hard work of the laborers and contractors, the tunnel is finally complete. When the project was proposed the estimated time was told to be less than 6 years but due to the heavy ingression of the water on the digging site the work was slowed down as it was time-consuming to pour out the water that keeps on filling in and constructing with it, Moreover while digging the tunnel 30m of the roof fell on the north portal of the tunnel sabotaging the work. These difficult situations led to a tunnel that was supposed to be built in 6 or fewer years to 10 years.
The tunnel which was earlier known as the Rohtang tunnel till 24th December but on 25th December it was officially named as Atal tunnel after the name of the former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee by Prime Minister of India respected Narendra Modi. The tunnel’s former name was kept Rohtang as it was built under the Rohtang pass although it is not exactly under the pass its position is slightly towards the west. The construction of this tunnel was important as there are only two ways to travel to Leh-Ladakh and both of them during winters get heavy snowfall which blocks the way from people to travel to and fro. The route for Leh-Ladakh opens only for 4 months and for the rest of the 8 months it is not useable due to snowfall. So on 28th June 2010 UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi laid the first stone for the construction of the highway tunnel. From this day on, the operator of the project Border Roads Organisation took charge and started the construction of the world’s longest highway tunnel.
The length of the tunnel is 9.02 kilometer ( 5.06 meters ) and is in 10,000 feet ( 3,100 meters) elevation from the Rohtang pass. The building of this highway tunnel has reduced the distance between Manali and Leh by 46 kilometers. The exact location of the Atal tunnel is: the south opening of the highway tunnel is from the other side of the Beas river, north of Dhundi and the northern opening meet the highway build for the connection of Leh and Manali, the Leh-Manali highway which is after Rohtang pass, the first village.
Previously, when the highway tunnel was not built Leh-Ladakh could only communicate with the world for 4 months and was only accessible for a limited period of time. If by any chance a person is stuck on the other side of the Leh-Ladakh and the snow starts to fall, that person would not be able to reach home till the next 8 months. Furthermore, if there is any kind of emergency it would be completely impossible to reach Leh-Ladakh through roadways due to the snowfall, only the option of airlifting is available which might not be in access to the people living in that area at the moment of need. In addition to it, the tourism of Leh-Ladakh would only be there for 4 months and after 4 months there would zero business for the hotels and other business that runs and flourishes with tourism. The winter period being the period where there is heavy traffic for tourists as most people like to go out on winters was the period of recession for the people of Leh-Ladakh. The transportation of goods and services, the necessities of the life was a difficult task in the winter period because of which people need to store food and necessities for themselves as after that there could be a shortage of the goods which would only be able to refills once the routes are active.
The former prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee after seeing such a problematic situation for the local people of Leh-Ladakh, conceived the project of 1983 and gave them to the RITES for the study of the construction on the tunnel. After which on 3rd June 2000 the official announcement was made by the former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, but the project was not called in action. The estimated cost for the construction was around ₹5 billion rupees in 2000 for which BRO (Border Roads Organisation) given the contract for the highway tunnel construction. However, the construction didn’t surpass the stage of tree cutting because of the rise in the cost of construction. Now, the estimated cost for the project rose from ₹5 billion to ₹17 billion. Despite that, the project was given to the Australian company, SMEC ( snowy mountain engineering corporation) after the project changing many hands, it finally landed in the hands of a contractor who started all this BRO (Border Roads Organisation) after the cabinet committee on security gave a green signal to the Rohtang pass highway tunnel. While construction of the world’s longest highway tunnel, it was opened for emergency uses such as ambulance and few emergency transportations.
While constructing the highway tunnel, the security and safety measures were kept as top priorities while constructions of the project. For the security measures, CCTV cameras are fitted in appropriate differences and would be monitored by two control room made in between the tunnel. Even the pollution levels are taken into concern while constructing sensors are fitted in the tunnel to monitor the measure the level of pollution, if the level goes up the set measure fresh air could be injected within 90 seconds by heavy-duty fans fitted at each ending of the tunnel. In addition to it, there are fire hydrants in every 200 meters of the tunnels to control if anyway fire starts in the tunnel.
The Atal Tunnel made after 10 years of construction is not only the longest highway tunnel but also the safest tunnel made by keeping people’s safety in mind and takes each and every measure into account. The highway tunnel will be made available to the general traffic by the end of the year 2020.