Unfazed by the Covid-19 pandemic, the government is clearing important strategic projects including construction of the Shinku La tunnel by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO).
The defence ministry has asked the BRO to build a 4.25-kilometre tunnel under the 5,091-metre-high Shinku La pass to construct an all-weather axis from Manali to Leh. Once the tunnel is complete, Army formations in the Ladakh sector will remain supplied by road even in winter. The road will pass through the Darcha-Padun-Nimmu alignment on the way to reach frontline troops. The snow-free axis is expected to be completed by 2024, the Hindustan Times is reporting.
The new route will link up with the newly constructed road from Leh to the Karakoram Pass, which terminates at the Daulat Beg Oldi.
Analysts say that a round-the-year road to the LAC in Ladakh is essential given the large Chinese infra construction in Tibet and Xinjiang. From an Indian perspective the new road alignment is necessary to prevent Chinese land grabs across the LAC, which would weaken the defence of Ladakh, Kashmir, as well as the flow of the Indus river before it enters Gilgit-Baltistan.
According to South Block officials, defence minister Rajnath Singh and top officials decided in favour of the BRO proposal instead of National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL), which was recommending an altogether new road alignment with a 13.5km tunnel under Shinku La.
The BRO had suggested the government take up the tunnel and Nimu-Padam-Darcha road projects on priority considering the current scenario along the Line of Actual control (LAC). The alternative connectivity from Manali to Leh through Nimu-Padam-Darcha axis will also reduce the travel time as compared to the time taken on the existing routes passing through Zojila pass from Srinagar.
“Both BRO and NHIDCL made presentations before the minister in March 2021. After studying both the proposals, the defence ministry has decided in favour of a shorter tunnel. The decision could not be put on the paper as a number of senior officials involved in this project were hit by Covid-19 infection,” reports the daily quoting a top official.
The tunnel is essential as the Shinku La is prone to avalanches during the snow season, hampering vehicular movement.
The present Manali-Sarchu-Upshi-Leh road goes over four high mountain passes of around 5,000-metre in height even after construction of Atal tunnel under Rohtang pass and remains under snow for at least two to three months during winter.
The four passes on the present Manali-Leh route are: Baralacha La (16500 feet), Nakee La (15547 feet), Lachung La (16616 feet) and Tanglang La (17480 feet).