Officials said it will take Border Roads Organization (BRO) around three years to complete the construction of the Se La (La means pass) tunnel project, the foundation stone for which was laid by PM Narendra Modi on Saturday, at a cost of Rs 687 crore.
“The project covers a total distance of 12.04 km, with two tunnels of 1,790 and 475 meters. Once completed, the tunnel will provide all-weather connectivity to Tawang and other forward areas. It will reduce the travelling time from Tezpur to Tawang in a major way. Travellers would be able to avoid the dangerous snow covered Se La top at a height of 13,700 feet,” said an official.
A senior Army officer, who has served a couple of tenures at Se La, in turn, said the road connecting Tenga to Tawang is “a perpetual struggle” for military convoys because it frequently remains blocked due to landslides and other factors. “There has been no change over the last 20 years. An all-weather axis is desperately needed,” he said.
The Army is keeping its fingers crossed about the Se La tunnel project, given the huge delays in border infrastructure development as well as the 73 “strategic” all-weather roads (totalling 4,643-km) that were identified for construction along the 4,057-km Line of Actual Control (LAC) almost two decades ago. Of the 61 roads entrusted to BRO, with more east-west lateral links as well as better access routes to strategic peaks and valleys, only 34 have been fully completed till now.
China, in sharp contrast, has systematically built an extensive military infrastructure in the Tibet Autonomous Region, which includes 14 airbases, an extensive rail network and over 58,000-km of roads. It gives the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) the capability to swiftly induct and sustain 30-32 divisions (each with over 12,000 troops) along the LAC. Moreover, China is now also constructing underground hangers and parking bays for its fighters by digging tunnels into mountains at some of the airbases, as was reported by TOI earlier.
Incidentally, during the 1962 war, China’s invasion into India progressed swiftly after Se La, located on the border between the Tawang and West Kameng districts of Arunachal, was overrun by the PLA.