NEW DELHI: The Border Roads Organisation (BRO) opened the critical Rohtang Pass which is the gateway for people of Lahaul Valley in Himachal Pradesh on Saturday amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
The BRO said, “The news of Rohtang Pass being opened for traffic three weeks in advance as compared to last year has brought relief amongst the local population. It will facilitate the Centre and state government to bring much needed relief material and medical supplies for the local population.” In 2019, the pass was opened for movement on March 18.
Rohtang Pass, which is 13,500 feet above mean sea level, lies on the Eastern Pir Panjal Range of the Himalayas and is the only link with other parts of the state for the people of Lahaul. The opening of the pass will also assist in agriculture activities which are the backbone of the district. On the first day, 138 farmers in 23 vehicles crossed the pass.
The BRO said that Dr Markanda, Himachal Agriculture & Tribal Development Minister, made a specific request to Lt Gen Harpal Singh, DG Border Roads, for expediting snow clearance to facilitate movement of farmers and essential commodities to Lahaul Valley.
As a result of the pandemic, the Disaster Management Act was invoked and hence, it was critical for the BRO to open the pass as soon as possible in order to facilitate the supply of essentials.
The 70 Road Construction Company under the Project Deepak of BRO started the work in February which otherwise used to begin in March. To expedite the work, “BRO pooled in additional resources and the team worked day and night.”
During winter, the pass experiences 30-40 feet of snow coupled with blizzards and triggering of numerous avalanches en route. The BRO said, “Limited availability of labour due to the lockdown and inclement weather along with western disturbances during March did not deter the snow clearance operations. The place saw its heaviest snowfall in many decades.” All available men and machinery were deployed from two sides in a coordinated manner to clear the pass.
The lockdown had also stalled the ongoing work on the 8.8 km Atal Tunnel below the Rohtang Pass. Since the construction of the tunnel is at a critical stage, proactive measures were taken to recommence the work in active coordination with the state government, said the BRO.
Work on all critical activities of the Atal Tunnel has commenced with all necessary COVID-19 precautions in place to ensure its completion in September 2020 as planned.
To augment the government's efforts against COVID-19, all BRO personnel have collectively contributed Rs 1 crore to the PM CARES Fund over and above one day's salary.