All-Weather Connectivity to Remote Parts of India
All-weather connectivity applies to remote villages all over India. Many small villages and isolated houses in India become inaccessible during the monsoon. Due to the scope of limitation of this article, we will discuss large regions that are cut off from the rest of the country at least for a month. This mainly includes regions around the northern border of India. As India moves towards a developed nation, developing road and rail connectivity to these parts becomes necessary. Also, the defense sector will be immensely benefited to position troops precisely at target locations quickly.
One of the most hostile regions in the country, Kashmir, is a remote, picturesque valley tucked away in the lap of the Himalayas. Pakistan has also claimed Kashmir since 1947, for which India and Pakistan have fought at least 3 wars in 1947, 1965, and 1971. The Kashmir valley is not as easily accessible to India as it is to Pakistan. At present, only two roads connect Kashmir with the rest of India. One is through the Banihal pass, covering Patnitop, Banihal, and Qazigund. Two big tunnels, Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee tunnel at Chenani below the Patnitop hill station and the Banihal-Qazigund road tunnel below the Banihal pass, have made the road an all-weather one. The former was inaugurated in April 2016, while the latter was completed in August 2021. The Banihal-Qazigund road tunnel now awaits a formal inauguration, after which we can say that all-weather connectivity with Kashmir has been established. The other road is the old Mughal road via Akhnoor, Poonch, Shopian, which is inaccessible for 6 months in winter. The Udhampur-Baramulla railway line is partially complete between Udhampur and Katra stations and Banihal to Baramulla stations. The missing gap of around 111 Km between Katra and Banihal is expected to be completed by 2022.
Ladakh is one of the most remote places in entire India, which is cut off for 6 months in winter from the rest of India. At present, Ladakh is connected to India through only two roads, one via Zojila pass and another via Baralacha La pass. Both the passes are covered in a thick blanket of snow from early winter up to mid-summer. This makes Ladakh totally inaccessible except for emergency supplies via Leh airport. Currently, two tunnels, Z-Morh tunnel and Zojila tunnel are under construction in the Zojila pass route. These two tunnels will provide all-weather connectivity to Kargil, though the same cannot be said for Leh as more passes are needed to be covered. The other route through Himachal Pradesh requires tunnels at Baralacha La, Lachulung La, and Taglang La passes to make it an all-weather route. There is no rail route at present between Ladakh and the rest of India. A third road is under construction via Shingo La pass, which will connect the Lahaul and Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh with the Zanskar region of Ladakh.
3)Lahaul and Spiti :
Lahaul and Spiti forms the northern tribal districts of Himachal Pradesh. Lahaul and Spiti forms two different valleys, each connected to the rest of India via two separate roads. The Rohtang pass connects Lahaul while Spiti is connected through a narrow road via Reckong Peo, Nako. Both the roads are prone to heavy snowfall in winter. Lahaul and Spiti forms the gateway to Ladakh via Himachal Pradesh. After the inauguration of the Rohtang tunnel in September 2020, Lahaul is finally connected to the rest of India through an all weather road. Spiti is still too remote to be connected even in the near future. The road between these two valleys is through the high altitude Kunzum Pass, which is closed most of the year due to snow. There is no train connection to either of these two valleys.
The Tawang region of Arunachal Pradesh is connected to the rest of India through a single road through the Sela pass. The Sela pass is a high altitude pass, which is often blocked by snowfall in winter. To make an all-weather road to the Tawang district, two tunnels will be dug, one below the Sela pass and another at Nechiphu. These two tunnels will provide winter connectivity to Tawang. The construction of Sela tunnel has been started, while the work on the shorter Nechiphu tunnel will be taken up shortly. No rail connections to Tawang exists though a line via the nearest railhead at Bhalukpong is at the planning stage. Though legally a part of India, China claims the Tawang region for which it fought the 1962 Sino-India War. Defense of Tawang is a must at this hour. Hence an all-weather road and rail connectivity to Tawang is a priority to the Government of India.
Sikkim is the smallest state of India in terms of population. Parts of Sikkim get road blockages due to heavy snowfall in winter or heavy rainfall followed by landslides during monsoon. Lachen and Lachung villages of the North Sikkim district face blockade during most of the winter period. Yuksom, Tsomgo Lake, and Nathu La pass region of West and East Sikkim, respectively, get blocked due to snow. The state is connected to the rest of India through only one major national highway, which often gets blocked in the monsoon. An all-weather train line is being laid from Sevoke railway station in West Bengal to Rangpo in Sikkim, which will provide transportation of heavy machinery to the fragile roads of the mountainous state. The Theng tunnel between Mangan and Chungthang of North Sikkim also reduced damage to the only road connecting Lachen and Lachung. The road conditions are being improved by the BRO.
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Written by – Himadri Paul