The Rohtang tunnel being carved out beneath the majestic Rohtang Pass in Himachal Pradesh's Kullu district will be completed by 2014, state chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal told the assembly on Monday.
The union government had cleared the proposal in September. ''The work on the Rohtang tunnel would start soon and it would be completed by 2014,'' Dhumal said.
He said the tunnel would not only provide an all-weather alternative road connectivity to the state's tribal Lahaul and Spiti district and but also to Ladakh region in Jammu and Kashmir.
The 9-km tunnel, the foundation for which was laid by then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee back in 2002, will reduce the 475-km distance between Manali and Leh in Jammu and Kashmir by 40 km.
More importantly, it will provide all-year access to the underdeveloped Lahaul and Spiti regions. At present, due to heavy snowfall in the Rohtang Pass - at an altitude of 13,044 feet – access to Lahaul and Spiti and Leh remains blocked for more than four months a year.
The horseshoe shaped tunnel, some 300km from Shimla and 51km from the tourist haven of Manali, will be burrowed below the Rohtang Pass so that it avoids the heavy snow, high velocity winds, and bitter cold above. It is estimated to cost around Rs1,500 crore ($3.2 billion).
The Border Roads Organisation (BRO), which is overseeing the tunnel, has awarded the contract to construction work to Starbag-Afcon Joint Venture, a JV India's Afcon and Straberg of Germany, as union defence minister A K Antony in the Lok Sabha on Monday.
Experts point out that completing the long-delayed project in three years will be quite a challenge, as due to the extreme climate the effective working period for the construction of the tunnel would be just a little over three years.