Sela Tunnel In Arunachal Gears Up For Third-Party Safety Audit Ahead Of Inauguration

V Bhagya Subhashini

Jan 31, 2024, 01:35 PM | Updated 01:35 PM IST

Under-construction Sela Tunnel near Tawang.
Under-construction Sela Tunnel near Tawang.

In a crucial development, the highly strategic Sela Tunnel Project, designed to ensure all-weather connectivity to Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, is set to undergo a third-party safety audit before its official inauguration, according to a Border Roads Organisation (BRO) official.

The project will enable all-weather access to western Arunachal Pradesh’s Tawang near the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China.

The audit, expected to conclude by mid-February, will precede the inauguration by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

BRO's additional director general (East) P K H Singh revealed that the construction work on the tunnel, situated at an elevation of 13,000 feet, is nearing completion.

Positive results have been received from the physical and environmental audits, as stipulated in the contract. However, in the wake of the Silkyara tunnel incident in Uttarakhand, a third-party safety audit for the Sela tunnel was ordered by the BRO DG, given its strategic importance in close proximity to the LAC, reports Hindustan Times.

The project, with an estimated cost of Rs 697 crore, witnessed delays attributed to various factors, including the COVID-19 pandemic. Construction began in April 2019, and the first blast occurred on 31 October of the same year.

Comprising two tunnels, the first is a single-tube tunnel spanning 980 m, while the second is a 1.5-km-long tunnel with an escape tube for emergencies. The BRO is actively engaged in constructing approach roads to both tunnels.

The Sela tunnel, constructed using the New Austrian Tunneling Method, achieved its final breakthrough in tunnel-1 on 22 January. A major cloudburst in July last year during the final phases of installation led to delays in the construction of approach roads, affecting the overall project completion timeframe.

Strategic Significance Of The Project

Army vehicles carrying troops and vital equipments have to cross the Sela Pass, which remains at the mercy of the vagaries of weather. 

During the winter months — November to February and even mid-March — the Sela Pass remains under thick snow cover. Heavy snow-cutting vehicles and excavators have to be deployed round the clock to keep the road clear of snow.

Even then, only vehicles fitted with chains over their tyres can pass through, and that reduces the speed to a maximum of 5 kmph. 

During the monsoon season — late April to September — heavy rains often accompanied by light snow make the journey through the pass very difficult. The heavy and incessant rains trigger minor landslides, thus delaying movement till the blockages are cleared.

The extreme and very adverse weather conditions throughout the year make even routine maintenance of the Sela Pass and a nearly 10 km stretch of the BCT road very difficult to maintain. The perennially poor condition of the road forces vehicles to travel at a snail’s pace. 

The two-tunnel project will reduce journey time between Bomdilla and Tawang by over one hour. More importantly, it will facilitate round-the-year and quick access to Tawang.

Tawang, which houses India’s largest Buddhist monastery and is the land of the Monpa tribe, is also a strategic military base and located about 53 km south of the border with China.

Providing easy access for soldiers and military hardware to Tawang and beyond, is of crucial importance since the town is about 330 km north of Tezpur, which is the headquarters of the Indian Army’s 4 Corps that oversees the western part of the LAC in Arunachal Pradesh.

V Bhagya Subhashini is a staff writer at Swarajya. She tracks infrastructure developments.

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