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Tuesday , 9 April 2024

Taming Shinkun La

The UT of Ladakh enjoys the significance of being located at the ancient Silk Route which passes through these regions and played a very vital role in the development of culture, religion, philosophy, trade and commerce in the past. The presence of resources is what makes Ladakh strategically very important sitting over a conflict zone. Ladakh’s geostrategic significance has increased in the recent times in the backdrop of conflict with China.

The entry into Ladakh is restricted to two major axes viz. Srinagar- Kargil-Leh and Manali-Sarchu-Leh. Due to the closure of Zozila Pass along Srinagar-Kargil-Leh Axis and Baralacha La Pass along Manali-Leh Axis, Ladakh remains cut off during winters. Significant progress has been made by BRO, to reduce the closure period to mere 73 days in 2022. However, even the limited closure period creates operational challenges for armed forces and psychological isolation for the populace of Ladakh. Construction of Atal (Rohtang) tunnel was a game changer as it brought a 622% increase in the tourists footfall visiting Lahaul-Spiti Valley while taming the mighty Rohtang Pass. However, Atal Tunnel was not sufficient to give all-weather connectivity to Ladakh. Both Zojila and Shinkun La also needed to be tamed.

In a significant boost to the operational requirement of our armed forces, tourism and other socio-economic activities in the region, Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), on Feb 15, 2023 approved the construction of 4.1 Km long Shinkun La Tunnel to provide an all-weather connectivity to this region via Darcha-Padam-Nimmu. This is a watershed moment in the history of both Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh as this strategically important tunnel gets a nod for construction, besides connecting the heitherto isolated Zanskar Valley, much to the delight of the population of Lahaul-Spiti and Zanskar.

Shinkun La Pass

Shinkun La Pass on Manali-Leh Axis is situated at an approximate height of 16580 feet in the Great Himalayan Ranges and experiences very heavy snowfall during winters. Snow accumulation varies from 30-60 feet on road stretch between Km 24 to 39 on Darcha-Shinkun La Road. The total distance from Darcha to Shinkun La is 39.6km. Mercury on top of Shinkun La pass dips to almost minus 40-500C in winter months. The all-weather connectivity of Darcha-Shinkun La Road is essential from strategic reasons and hence various proposals were initiated to achieve the objective. There are two axes available ahead of Rohtang Tunnel to have all weather connectivity till Leh. One is from Baralacha La Axis and other is from Shinkun La Axis and both these axes diverge ahead of Darcha. Though, Rohtang Tunnel provides all weather connectivity to Lahaul Valley, but it will not serve the purpose to connect Leh with an all-weather road due to Shinkun La Pass on Darcha-Shinkun La Road. A tunnel at Shinkun La is an imperative to provide all-weather connectivity to Ladakh.

Tunnel Characteristics

Shinkun La Tunnel will come up at an altitude of 15855ft. The length of the tunnel will be 4.1km with approach roads to North and South portal to the length of 2.39kms. The tunnel stretch will have rigid pavement and the approach road stretch will have flexible pavement. The approach road will also have three bridges and avalanche protection structures.

The proposed tunnel system consists of two tubes; each tube has provision for two lanes. Both tunnels are connected via cross passages at 500m spacing. In the event of an incident/accident in one of the tubes, the other tube shall be used as an escape and rescue route for the drivers/occupants of the vehicles. New Austrian Tunnelling Method (NATM) is the recommended construction method for the proposed tunnel due to its advantage of flexibility to accommodate varying ground conditions.

Project Yojak of Border Roads Organisation will be entrusted with this ambitious project which is likely to be completed by Dec 2026. The total cost of the project including the approach roads is Rs1681.51cr.

Advantages

The all-weather connectivity to Western Ladakh and Zanskar Valley directly from Manali Axis through a 298km road will help in reducing the travel time as compared to that of Zojila Axis from Srinagar. The major strategic advantage of this tunnel and all weather connectivity to Ladakh would be extremely beneficial to our armed forces. The present logistic challenges faced by the formations deployed in Ladakh would be obviated. The completion of tunnel will also provide the much needed all weather connectivity to the people of Leh and Ladakh which at present is not possible. This would not only boost tourism round the year but would also get much needed socio-economic development to the region.

Tunnel will connect 36 Villages in Zanskar Valley to 137 Villages in Lahaul Spiti Valley, thereby enabling people to people interaction throughout the year and giving them access to all Civic amenities.

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