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Rohtang Pass opens 3 weeks earlier than usual. Here’s why it is important

Snow clearance work at Rohtang Pass began in February, as it usually does. However, it was expedited on the request of Himachal govt.

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New Delhi: The Rohtang Pass, a crucial stretch that connects Leh and Manali, opened Saturday three weeks before its usual timeline. The road, which is blocked by snow every winter, serves as the only mode of connectivity between the tribal population of Lahaul Valley in Himachal Pradesh and the rest of the country. It is also a crucial lifeline for the Army troops deployed on the eastern border in the Ladakh region.

Snow clearance work at Rohtang Pass began in February, as it usually does. According to an Army statement released Saturday, the work was expedited following a request from the Himachal Pradesh government that wanted supply routes to Lahaul eased amid the Covid-19 lockdown.

The state government had approached the Union Defence Ministry and the director general of the Border Roads Organisation in this regard on 11 April.

Lahaul usually depends on air maintenance for supplies while the winter closure is in place.

Also read: Govt to rename tunnel under Rohtang Pass after Atal Bihari Vajpayee on his birth anniversary

Why is this road important?

Ladakh has two access roads — the 475-km Srinagar-Leh road over the Zoji-La and other is the 477-km Manali-Leh road via Rohtang Pass, which lies at a height of 13,500 ft in the eastern Pir Panjal range of the Himalayas and experiences 30-40 ft of snow every year. 

The pass remains snowed in for 6-7 months each year, which blocks all movement during this period. The opening of the pass is critical for the Army because it is used for winter stocking in Siachen and forward areas in Ladakh. This includes food, rations, ammunition and equipment for the 6-7 months the pass is shut.

The Manali-Leh axis is also crucial because all major troop movements, including those of units deployed across various sectors in Ladakh, for example, at Siachen and along Line of Actual Control, are conducted along the road.

This axis has got three important passes — Rohtang pass, Baralacha La and Tanglang La. The opening of the Rohtang Pass earlier than usual gives additional time to move both military and civilian stores and supplies into Ladakh and Lahaul.

Given how important it is, the Border Roads Organisation attempts to keep the pass open until as late as possible during the winter, and clears it at the earliest when the summer approaches.

To facilitate year-round movement along the road, the government is building an 8.8 km tunnel under the Rohtang Pass. Named after former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the project was stalled by the lockdown but the Army is still likely to be completed by September.

“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,” the Army said in its statement, adding that work on all “critical activities” has commenced with all necessary COVID-19 precautions in place to ensure its completion in September this year.

Also read: CAG pulls up Army as soldiers in Ladakh and Siachen face shortage of snow boots, goggles


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