On April 25, the Border Road Organisation (BRO) opened Rohtang Pass three weeks ahead of schedule, upon request from the Himachal Pradesh government. The Himachal Pradesh government had approached the Ministry of Defence and the Director General (Border Roads) on April 11 to expedite the process of snow clearance, in order to facilitate transportation of essential supplies and relief materials to the residents of Lahaul and Spiti during the ongoing nationwide COVID-19 lockdown, as well as to help farmers in starting cultivation.
The Pass lies at 13,058 feet on the eastern Pir Panjal Range of the Himalayas, and acts as a gateway to the Lahaul and Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh. During winters, it remains snowbound, and hence the Lahaul and Spiti Valley remains inaccessible and isolated from the rest of the country. The pass thus remains shut from mid-November to mid-May. Every year, snow clearance is conducted by the BRO. During the period of isolation, therefore, the Lahaul and Spiti district relies upon airways for external logistics and supplies. The pass is an important connecting location between Leh and Manali.
According to a statement by the Army, “Dr. Ram Lal Markanda, Agriculture Minister of Himachal Pradesh, led the first convoy of vehicles, carrying essential supplies and approximately 150 farmers, to the Lahaul Valley… thus officially opening the Rohtang Pass this year.” Dr Ram Lal Markanda represents Lahaul-Spiti in the State Assembly of Himachal Pradesh. According to the BRO, snow clearance work continued in spite of delays from snow blizzards, freezing temperatures and avalanches.
BRO also added that work on the 8.8-km-long Atal Tunnel being built on the Leh-Manali highway named after the late Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, which had stalled because of the lockdown, has also resumed, in coordination with the State Government. The tunnel is being built at an elevation of 10,171 feet under Rohtang Pass in the eastern Pir Panjal range of the Himalayas. It will reduce the distance between Manali and Lahual-Spiti’s administrative centre Keylong by around 45 kilometres, and is being built to ensure year-round movement along the road. BRO stated that all necessary precautions against COVID19 have been followed in the opening of the Rohtang Pass and the restarting of work on the Tunnel, with the planned completion of the project by September.
Further, BRO informed that BRO personnel have contributed Rs 1 Crore to the PM-CARES Fund over and above a day’s salary.