The 9.02 Kilometers long, Atal Tunnel – named after former Indian PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee, built at a height of over 10,000 feet, is now open to the general public. It is not only the world’s longest highway tunnel but also holds strategic importance for India bringing the conflicted Line of Actual Control (LAC) closer.
The Atal tunnel was inaugurated by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the presence of Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Cheif of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat, Army Chief General MM Naravane and Himachal Chief Minister Jairam Thakur.
— PMO India (@PMOIndia) October 3, 2020
It is a horseshoe-shaped, single-tube, double lane tunnel with a roadway of eight metres and has an overhead clearance of 5.525 metres, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) October 3, 2020
“The Atal tunnel will give new strength to India’s border infrastructure. It is an example of world-class border connectivity. There have been demands to improve border infrastructure but, for a long time, such projects either couldn’t get out of the planning stage or got stuck midway,” the Prime Minister said in his inauguration speech.
At a time when India and China are engaged in a standoff in the Eastern Ladakh border, the opening of the tunnel is a significant development, connecting Manali in Himachal Pradesh to the Leh sector in Ladakh.
After the deadly Galwan valley clash in June that killed 20 Indian soldiers, the tensions in the region have heightened with both the sides moving thousands of troops and heavy artillery along the Indo-Sino border.
The troops are preparing to endure the harsh winters in the Himalayan region as the administration is supplying food, water and other essentials for them.
The 10.5-metres wide tunnel will enable the movement of 3,000 cars per day and 1,500 trucks per day with a max speed of 80 km/hour all around the year. Earlier, the Leh sector was cut off for at least six months due to heavy snow.
It the situation worsens on the LAC, the Atal tunnel is now a vital route for logistical movement. It has “ultra-modern specifications” and lies in the Pir Panjal range of Himalayas. It cuts the distance between Manali in Himachal Pradesh and Leh by 46 kilometers, reducing the travel time by 4-5 hours.
It is named after former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee under whom the decision to construct the tunnel was taken on June 3, 2000. The foundation stone for the access road to the South Portal was laid on May 26, 2002.
The tunnel has 10.5 meters wide and 3.6 x 2.25 meters fireproof emergency egress tunnel built into the main tunnel itself and is the first tunnel in India to have an escape tunnel within the main tunnel.
It has entry barriers at north and south portal telephone connections at every 150 meters, fire hydrant systems at every 60 meters, evacuation lighting, air quality monitoring every one km and exit signs at every 25 meters, emergency exit at every 500 meters, and a broadcasting system and automatic incident detection system with CCTV cameras every 250 meters, for safety purposes.
The timing of the inauguration of the Atal tunnel is crucial. Despite the ongoing disengagement process through military and diplomatic channels, the LAC is still susceptible to fire.