ITANAGAR: The recent India Army and Chinese PLA clash at Yangtse area, 25-km away from Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, has intensified tension between India and China prompting the Centre reportedly to attach to priority to complete ongoing Sela Pass tunnel. Thus, the central Govt has attached top priority to this project, a source from New Delhi said on condition of anonymity.

It is needless to say that Indian Army’s defeat in 1962 Indo-Chinese aggression was mainly due to lack of proper road to Tawang along China border. Thus, this infrastructural development is extremely significant in the light of recent border scuffles between India and China.

Project Vartak is under pressure as state Chief Minister Pema Khandu had inspected two-km-long Sela Pass tunnel on September 4 last and appreciated the BRO for its works, while Governor Brig Dr B D Mishra (Retd) after inspecting it on September 27 had lauded BRO’s technical expertise

The Sela Pass tunnel, located at a height of 13,700 feet, being built by Border Roads Organization (BRO), will offer all weather connectivity to Indian Army to Line of Actual Control (LAC) near Tawang along Sino-India border.

The tunnel, being executed by BRO’s Project Vartak chief engineer Brig Raman Kumar, is targeted to be complete by March 2023 with works going on in full swing, but subject to weather condition as this year’s monsoon was unprecedented with eight times more rainfalls that affected the works.

At present, there is effectively one central axis connecting Guwahati and Tawang. This route includes two separate roads – Balipara-Charduar-Tawang (BCT) road and Orang-Kalaktang-Shergaon-Rupa-Tawang (OKSRT) road, both of which meet ahead of Tenga and from there merge into the existing central axis to Tawang.

The movement through present Sela Pass road is affected badly due to heavy snowfalls during the winter forcing Indian Army personnel and civilians to use OKSRT road.

The project included widening of existing single lane road to NH double lane specifications from Baisaki and then taking off a Greenfield alignment of 12.37-km length and construction of two tunnels to bypass Sela and a number of hairpin bends. The altitude of the new alignment will vary between 11,000 and 12,000 feet.

Two tunnels of 475-m and 1790-m length through Sela-Chabrela ridge that divides West Kameng from Tawang district are being built to meet existing BCT road on Nurarang side, obviating high altitude, steep gradient and hair pin bends on either side of Sela pass, reducing distance by about 8-9 km and travel time at least by an hour to bring relief to commuters.

In fact, there are two tunnels including one twin tube. One bi-lane tube in Tunnel-2 is for traffic, and one escape tube is for emergencies. The requirement for an escape passage is only applicable to tunnels longer than 1,500-m. Moreover, the tunnels would ensure that NH-13, especially 171-km Bomdila-Tawang stretch, remains accessible in all weather conditions.

“Sela tunnel will add to tourist potential and attract more tourists making Tawang a more popular destination in NE region. Moreover, these infrastructures would serve as boon for Indian Army and civilians in winters when heavy snowfall hinders connectivity through Sela Pass. The short OKSRT road is used less.

It may be recalled that BRO Director General Lt Gen Rajeev Chaudhry had inspected tunnel projects, including Sela Tunnel on September 29 last and reviewed the progress of Sela Tunnel, one of the most vital and strategic projects in NE region to be built at a total cost of Rs 687.12 crore.

Once built, Sela tunnel will be the longest bi-lane tunnel in the world. Its first blast was on 15.01.21 while Defence Minister Rajnath Singh from New Delhi had virtually conducted last blast on October 14 last.

On the same road, the BRO has completed excavation of 500-m long Nechiphu tunnel worth Rs 88.78 crore cutting through the foggiest stretches which is on the verge of completion.

The DGBR was briefed by Project Vartak CE on construction activities and challenges being faced during construction of Sela and other tunnels. Addressing BRO personnel, the DGBR had lauded their hard work to fast-track vital infrastructure in remote areas of Arunachal Pradesh to enhance defence preparedness and boosting socio-economic development of the region.