Of dark tunnel
Instead of joining the Rohtang tunnel foundation stone ceremony, the state government should have asked for the construction of Zojila tunnel
WHATS UP BY SAJJAD BAZAZ
The foundation stone of much hyped Rohtang tunnel in Himachal Pradesh (near Manali) would be laid by the United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi tomorrow (June 28). The Cabinet Committee on Security had cleared the project in September 2009 at a cost of Rs.1,495 crores. Ambitious Rohtang tunnel (a brain child of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi ) was first conceived in 1983 to develop an all-weather alternate route for strategic considerations. On January 14, 1987, the project was approved. Today it is a dream project of the Ministry of Defence and is expected to be completed in 63 months, by the year 2015.
For J&K State, the horse-shoe shaped nine kilometer long Rohtang tunnel is projected as the all-weather alternate road connectivity to Ladakh region. But the fact is that the tunnel is more as a vital part of defence strategy, as China’s aggressive infrastructural build up along the border has been the main concern to India. And if any civil population gets benefited, it would be in Himachal Pradesh's tribal Lahaul and Spiti districts. Precisely, the project is strategically important to the defence forces as well as to boost economic development in the Lahaul-Spiti region in Himachal Pradesh than being beneficial to Ladakhis.
From socio-economic development point of view, Rohtang tunnel project is a non viable option and is against the interests of our state. The major challenges facing to the progress of tunnel may include difficulties in disposing the excavated soil and flash floods, but the best part of the story is that this has been done at the cost of the Prime Minister’s special package for Jammu & Kashmir and the benefit goes to Himachal Pradesh.
Former Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee had announced the construction of this tunnel in 2002. He had announced a comprehensive package for employment, development, relief and security of the J&K State to the tune of Rs.6,165 crore. Interestingly, out of this package, around Rs.1400 crore were earmarked for the construction of Rohtang tunnel, which is an area falling in the state of Himachal Pradesh. So, this is an open case of diverting J&K State’s funds for the development of Himachal Pradesh.
If development of Ladakh region is the issue, and Rohtang tunnel is projected as an alternative, then it is simply misleading. Ladakh is connected to mainland via Jammu-Srinagar-Zojila-Kargil and Manali-Sarchu- Leh axes. Both these axes are completely cut off during winter, at least for seven months, due to heavy snowfall and there are avalanche prone areas along both these roads. Manali option is very long and treacherous route and will benefit only predominantly a Buddhist populated Leh district. The Manali-Leh highway winds its way through the Rohtang Pass, Baralacha Pass (16,020 ft), Lachlungla Pass (16,620 ft) and Tanglangla (17,480 ft). The highway plays an important role in the movement of the armed forces to the forward areas in Ladakh.
The reality is that whatever plans are aimed at the development of the region, it is purely for strengthening the internal security against as any aggression by China or Pakistan. Ladakh is focussed more as a strategic defence location rather than a peaceful living place for its inhabitants. So, do the developmental plans here really carry ‘worthless’ as prefix? To know the whole truth we need to unlearn many things.
The most appropriate option would have been to make the Zojila axis all weather road to Leh by digging out a tunnel at Zojila. This being the only pass along this axis which closes for winter, the other two passes on the axis, that is, Namikila and Fatula do not receive more than few inches of snow during winter and remain motorable throughout the year. So the tunnel at Zojila can make it an all weather road to Kargil and Leh which will be more economical and cost effective, as compared to Rohtang option.
Notably, Zojila tunnel project of around 15 kms in length connecting Ladakh and Kashmir was conceived for free and easy movement of civilian and defence traffic and goods especially during the extreme climatic months when Kargil remains cut off from the main land. The project was approved and in March 2007, Zojila tunnel having 12 kms length at a cost of Rs.1333.00 cr was approved in principle in Lok Sabha. Even global tenders were invited for the project in the same year.
Meanwhile, one of the major issues which emerges out of the Rohtang tunnel project is official promotion of regional imbalance in J&K. Basically, J&K is a state where regional economic imbalance is an old talk. One region has been developing at the cost of other regions. Even the economic imbalance within a region is quite visible here. In this regard, Ladakh is the best example of the economic imbalances of the growth within one region, where Buddhist dominated Leh district has become priority of the powers at New Delhi at the cost of sufferings of Muslim dominated Kargil district where people have to struggle for even basic amenities of life. Notably, inhabitants of Kargil district have been showing dissent for the past few years, as they feel that they are being deprived of connectivity, particularly road connectivity, which is an important ingredient for any development that takes place in a region.
So the digging of Rohtang tunnel is nothing but another example of ‘worthless’ developmental plans extended to the Ladakh region for the past so many decades. This again shows that development in the region is very little aimed at the socio-economic upliftment of people, particularly Muslim dominated Kargil district and is more directed towards strengthening internal security measures, as the borders between Pakistan, India and China smear together.
Instead of joining the merry making Rohtang tunnel foundation stone ceremony, the state government should have pressed for prioritizing the construction of Zojila tunnel. This is the only route that would guarantee a sea change in socio-economic development of the whole Ladakh region. Even a tunnel at Zojila pass would result in saving crores of rupees, currently being spent for air maintenance and winter stocking of the region both by the army and the civil administration. Rohtang tunnel is nothing but a dark tunnel and least relevant to the development of our state.
Lastupdate on : Sat, 26 Jun 2010 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sat, 26 Jun 2010 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sun, 27 Jun 2010 00:00:00 IST
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