Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday inaugurated the strategically important Atal Tunnel in Himachal Pradesh that connects Manali to the Lahaul-Spiti valley. The tunnel will reduce the distance between Manali and Leh by 46 kms and would reduce the travel time by about five hours.

Calling the day “historic”, Modi said the tunnel would strengthen India’s border infrastructure. “The Atal tunnel will give new strength to India’s border infrastructure,” he added. “This tunnel is not only important to Himachal, but also because it facilitates a connection to Ladakh. People who live in the mountains would know the significance of cutting down travel time by four or five hours.”

The prime minister also said the tunnel will increase employment opportunities for the youth of the region, PTI reported. The tunnel will help provide new markets for handicrafts, other products from Himachal’s Lahaul-Spiti region, he added.

“Some [youths] will run homestays or hotels, and some will work as guides,” he said. “The tunnel will also open the world to the handicrafts, and other products produced in the region.”

“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.” 

— Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Modi was accompanied by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat and Army Chief General MM Naravane, as well as Himachal Chief Minister Jairam Thakur.

The decision to construct a strategic tunnel below the Rohtang Pass in Himachal was taken on June 3, 2000, when late Bharatiya Janata Party leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the prime minister. The foundation stone for the access road to the South Portal was laid on May 26, 2002.

In 2019, the Union Cabinet decided to name the Rohtang tunnel as Atal Tunnel to honour the contributions made by the former prime minister.

Described as the longest highway construction of its kind in the world (above 10,000 feet), the 9.02 km-long Atal Tunnel is built to “ultra-modern specifications” at an altitude of 3,000 metres (10,000 feet) in the Pir Panjal range of Himalayas, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement. 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.

At the event, the prime minister also claimed that his government has brought about a “transformation in governance”. He said policies are no longer based on votes, but aimed at development of all sections of society. “Our government is committed to giving basic amenities to Dalits and other weaker sections,” Modi asserted.

Modi said that places like Lahaul-Spiti were ignored by previous governments. “The reason was that some districts did not serve the political benefit of some people,” he claimed. “Now work is being done with new thinking of ‘Sabke saath se, sabke vishvaas se, sabka vikaas ho raha hai’ [development for all is taking place with the help of everyone and the trust of everyone].”