The tunnel traverses India’s northern Himachal Pradesh state and lies on one of two main routes for troops headed to border areas in Ladakh.
Twenty Indian and an unspecified number of Chinese troops were killed in June during a deadly clash in Ladakh, which shares a disputed boundary with China’s restive Xinjiang and Tibet regions. India has a disputed border on Ladakh with China.
The two nuclear-armed countries have since rushed tens of thousands of additional troops and weapons to the area, and have been locked in a tense stand-off for months.
The $400-million, nine-kilometre (six miles) tunnel will cut the journey by about 50 kilometers (30 miles) and four hours, enabling travelers to bypass a tricky route across a landslide-prone Himalayan pass.
The tunnel is hailed as a feat of engineering
The tunnel, at an altitude of more than 3,000 meters (10,000 feet), has been hailed as a feat of engineering.
#Ladakh upbeat!#AtalTunnel, the longest tunnel of the world, connecting #Leh with Manali provides alternate route for travel and trade. pic.twitter.com/UAQzb3Fyio— Dr Jitendra Singh (@DrJitendraSingh) September 19, 2020
A decade in the making, freezing temperatures, and the challenging terrain meant construction work could only be carried out for about six months each year.
The project is part of New Delhi’s push to catch up with Chinese infrastructure development on the other side of the border.
In the last six years, Modi’s government has expedited several frontier projects including roads, bridges, and high-altitude airstrips.
“We have put our entire energy in developing our border infrastructure. The country hasn’t seen roads, bridges, and tunnels built at this scale,” the prime minister said after inaugurating the tunnel Saturday.
India giving arms border villages
“Besides locals, this (infrastructure) will also hugely benefit the men and women in our army,” Modi added.
New Delhi hopes such projects will promote tourism and spur economic activity.
Sanjay Kundu, the police chief of Himachal Pradesh — which shares a long border with Tibet — recently proposed better roads and mobile connectivity as well as even arms training for the state’s border villages.
India’s Border Roads Organisation, which implements most of these strategic projects, says it has built more in the last four years than in the previous decade.
Its head, Lieutenant-General Harpal Singh, told AFP they were pressing ahead with “long-term plans based on their strategic calculations to develop these regions”.
GVS News Desk