Sela Tunnel: A Game-Changer for All-Weather Connectivity and Defense Capabilities in Arunachal

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday virtually inaugurated the Sela Tunnel, situated on the road linking Tezpur to Tawang in the West Kameng District of Arunachal Pradesh, from Itanagar.
Sela Tunnel: A Game-Changer for All-Weather Connectivity and Defense Capabilities in Arunachal
Sela Tunnel: A Game-Changer for All-Weather Connectivity and Defense Capabilities in Arunachal

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday virtually inaugurated the Sela Tunnel, situated on the road linking Tezpur to Tawang in the West Kameng District of Arunachal Pradesh, from Itanagar.

The tunnel has been constructed at a cost of Rs 825 Cr.

Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh Pema Khandu and Minister of Earth Sciences Kiren Rijiju were also present during the ceremony.

Sela Tunnel has been constructed at an altitude of 13000 feet on road connecting Tezpur to Tawang and will bypass treacherous Sela Pass at an altitude of 13700 feet. Balipara-Charduar-Tawang Road on which this Tunnel has been constructed is an important axis connecting Tawang Region and provides connectivity to the hinterland upto Tezpur.

The road had various bottlenecks like Nichephu, Bomdila Town and Sela Pass, which have been addressed by Border Roads Organisation (BRO) by construction of Sela and Nichephu Tunnels and Bomdila Bypass. 500 m long Nechiphu Tunnel was inaugurated and dedicated to the Nation on September 12, 2023 by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh.

Earlier, the foundation stone of Sela Tunnel was laid by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on February 9 in the year 2019. The construction of tunnel commenced on April 1, 2019 and the first blast took place on October 31, 2019.

The tunnel has been completed in just five years overcoming challenges of difficult terrain and adverse weather conditions.

The Sela Tunnel System consists of two tunnels of lengths 1003 m and 1595 m respectively with 8.6 Km approach and link roads constructed at a cost of Rs 825 Cr. The second tunnel also has an escape tube adjacent to the main tunnel as per international norms. The escape tube constructed parallel to the main tube is connected with cross passages after every 500m. In case of emergency, this escape tube can be used for move of rescue vehicles and evacuation of stranded people. The tunnel has been designed for a traffic density of 3000 cars and 2000 trucks per day with a max speed of 80 km/hr.

Sela Tunnel will ensure All-weather connectivity to Tawang and forward areas bypassing the Sela top which will not only facilitate smoother movement of troops and supplies but also reinforces our defence capabilities in the region.

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Sela Tunnel will also herald a new era of economic prosperity for the Tawang region, fostering trade, tourism, employment and overall development.

Earlier the route to Sela Pass had only single lane connectivity and treacherous bends due to which heavy vehicles, container trucks and vehicles with trailers could not get to Tawang. Moreover, due to adverse weather conditions, specifically in winters, evacuation of patients was adversely affected along the existing Sela Pass. All this is now feasible with opening of tunnel. The completed Sela Tunnel System will reduce the travel distance by more than eight Km and travelling time by an hour. This Tunnel will improve the quality of life of the people living in the region, by providing easier access to healthcare, education and essential services in the region.

Sela Tunnel has been constructed using New Austrian Tunneling Method (NATM) which is widely accepted and used in construction of tunnels worldwide especially for Himalayan Geology. It is based on the Philosophy of “Build As You Go” and involves using the inherent strength of the surrounding rock mass to support the tunnel. The execution of this mega project took over 90 Lakh man-hours with an average of around 650 personnel and labours working every day for last five years. The enormity of the task could be judged by the quantity of 71,000 metric tons of cement, 5000 metric tons of steel and 800 metric tons of explosive that was used for construction. A total of 162 plants and machinery were dedicated to the construction of this tunnel.

Various challenges were faced by Project Vartak during the construction of Sela Tunnel. These included challenge of freezing temp up to -10° C and formation of Icicles inside tunnel which caused delay in concreting process thereby affecting the time plan. Ingress of water during construction & cavity formation affected the progress of work. Restrictions due to COVID Protocol also affected the construction of the tunnel. Due to the cloud burst that happened in July last year, a lot of damages occurred and the resources had to be shifted for reconstruction of these damages.

Out of five years it took to complete the project, approximately 762 days had high snowfall or rainfall and 832 days had temperatures below 0° C, creating immense challenges for the personnel executing the work. However, even with these challenges BRO was able to complete the tunnel in less than five years due to the efficient use technology, ground experience of executives and the hard work of civilian labour involved in the construction.

The Sela Tunnel Project has been constructed with the highest quality standards with a well prepared Quality Assurance Plan, prepared strictly as per IRC SP 91 and MoRTH Guidelines. The tunnel has state of the art safety features. The tunnel has ventilation system to maintain air quality and state of the art electro mechanical system including jet fan ventilation system, fire fighting devices, CIE norms based illumination system and SCADA controlled monitoring systems.

In the last three years itself, BRO has completed and dedicated to the Nation a record 330 Infrastructure Projects constructed at the cost of Rs 8737 Cr. Recently, the Government has allocated Rs 6500 Cr under GS Capital Head for FY 2024-25 against Rs 5000 Cr in FY 2023-24. This 30 % jump under the GS Capital Head is unprecedented and reflects the tremendous faith bestowed by the Government on BRO.

Work on recently sanctioned 4.10 Km long Shinkun La Tunnel will commence very soon. Shinkun La Tunnel in conjunction with the Atal Tunnel will ensure All-weather connectivity to Leh along Manali- Leh Axis. The connectivity work on the under construction third axis to Leh i.e. NimuPadum- Darcha Road is nearing completion and the road is expected to be connected by March 2024. Furthermore, BROs endeavours extend beyond tunneling, with the construction of airfields like the Mudh Airfield in Ladakh, at an altitude of 13,710 ft. Mudh Airfield is poised to bolster our logistical capabilities in strategically important Eastern Ladakh and BRO will be completing this challenging project in just two working seasons.

BRO is not just developing infrastructure along the borders, but have always been at the forefront of disaster response and relief efforts. Whether it is the incident at Silkayara Tunnel or cloud burst at Sikkim, BRO personnel have demonstrated exemplary courage and resilience in serving the Nation and its citizens. At Silkiyara, BRO was instrumental in not only catering for critical logistics and coordination of this challenging rescue operation, but also created much needed approach tracks at critical juncture of the operations providing much needed mobility to the drilling equipment of various agencies. BRO was also the first responders along with the Indian Army at Sikkim. The floods caused large scale devastation to the road infrastructure in North Sikkim, in the area of Project Swastik.

BRO pressed all its resources to undertake restoration work on a war footing to restore connectivity. The restoration works are being undertaken in a time bound, result oriented manner and BRO is committed to restoration of complete connectivity by March 31, 2024.

After dedicating the Sela Tunnel to the Nation, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi also flagged off the first civilian convoy consisting of two buses from Tawang and felicitated the BRO personnel and casual paid labours involved in the construction of the Sela Tunnel.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister lauded the efforts of Border Roads Organisation in providing last mile connectivity to the border region. He praised the workers of Border Road Organisation in constructing an engineering marvel in such a difficult terrain under extremely trying conditions.

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