Earlier today, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh conducted virtually the final breakthrough blast for the longer of the two tubes of the Sela Tunnel.
The strategically important district of Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, which shares a border with Tibet in the north and Bhutan to the west, will soon have all-weather connectivity with the rest of India.
Earlier today (14 October), Defence Minister Rajnath Singh conducted virtually the final breakthrough blast for the longer of the two tubes of the Sela Tunnel during a ceremony at the National War Memorial in New Delhi. The final breakthrough blast, the government said, marks the end of excavation for the construction of the Sela Tunnel.
The foundation stone of the Sela Tunnel was laid by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in February 2019, and the construction of the tunnel began in April of that year, with the first blast in October.
“Despite COVID-19 restrictions and adverse weather conditions, the pace of works has increased in the last 6 to 10 months,” the Ministry of Defence said in July this year.
When complete, the Sela Tunnel will be the longest bi-lane road tunnel in the world at an altitude above 13,000 feet.
It will improve connectivity to Tawang and the border with China and serve the operational requirements of the Indian Army in the area by easing the movement of troops and equipment to the frontier.
“All weather connectivity to Tawang would be a game changer for the local population ahead of Sela apart from the much required strategic edge for our security forces,” the Defence Ministry says.
The tunnel, being built by the Border Roads Organisation, will reduce the distance to Tawang by around 6 km and the travel time will be shortened by nearly an hour, officials have said.
The project consists of two tunnels. While the first tunnel is 980 metres long, the second tunnel is 1,555 metres in length.
“This unique tunnel constructed using the latest New Austrian Tunneling Method (NATM), is much below the snow line allowing all weather travel without the challenges of snow clearance,” the Defence Ministry said.
The latest development in the construction of the tunnel comes only weeks after an incursion bid by around 200 Chinese soldiers near Tawang was foiled by the Indian Army, with at least one news report claiming that a few Chinese soldiers were also briefly detained by India.
While China claims almost the entire state of Arunachal Pradesh as part of “South Tibet”, it is most interested in Tawang.
Apart from tactical reasons, Tawang’s strong link to Tibetan Buddhism drives China’s claims on this part of Arunachal.