Polls round the corner, demand for tunnels gets shriller in Chamba : The Tribune India

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Polls round the corner, demand for tunnels gets shriller in Chamba

Polls round the corner, demand for tunnels gets shriller in Chamba

The Sach Pass road connecting tribal Pangi valley with Chamba district headquarters in poor shape. - File photo



Naresh Thakur

Chamba, April 1

In the remote corners of Bharmour and Pangi in Himachal Pradesh’s Chamba district, the demand for road tunnels becomes a dominant theme in political discussions, particularly during the election season.

No scope for airports

Compared to the rest of the state, connectivity is a major problem in Chamba region where hills are fragile and prone to natural disasters. Road tunnels are the only way to improve the connectivity in the district which has little scope of railway and airports. — Navneet Chowfla, a resident

Each election cycle witnesses politicians vying for support from these isolated regions, promising to prioritise tunnel construction as a solution to the longstanding infrastructural challenges faced by the residents. However, once the elections conclude, the issue often fades into the background.

As the Lok Sabha elections are approaching, the clamour for tunnels to connect Chamba’s remote regions, including Pangi and Bharmour, grows louder. Residents and stakeholders are emphasising the critical need for enhanced infrastructure, especially considering the geographical isolation and poor road connectivity of these areas.

The announcement by Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu, just days before the General Elections were declared, to allocate Rs 4 crore for the preparation of a Detailed Project Report (DPR) for the proposed Chamba-Chowari tunnel under Jot pass further fuelled the demand.

Bharmour and Pangi, nestled amidst rugged mountain terrain, have long grappled with geographical isolation due to inadequate road connectivity. The challenging landscape makes the access difficult, particularly during adverse weather conditions, as the roads are prone to landslides that have claimed many lives in the past.

Advocates for tunnel construction argue that such infrastructure would significantly enhance connectivity, facilitating smoother movement of goods, services and people. Additionally, the proposed tunnels would ensure all-weather access, mitigating the impact of seasonal disruptions and emergencies.

With rich cultural heritage and scenic beauty, Bharmour and Pangi have immense tourism potential. Improved access through the tunnels could unlock this potential, attracting visitors and stimulating local economies.

Safety concerns also highlight the urgency of the tunnel construction. The current narrow mountain roads pose significant risks to travellers, especially during harsh weather, making tunnels a safer and a more reliable alternative.

Navneet Chowfla, a Chamba resident and social activist, emphasises that the potential benefits extend beyond mere connectivity. He highlights the fragility of the hills in the Chamba region and the need for infrastructure improvements to mitigate natural disasters. Chowfla calls for prioritising projects that benefit larger communities over those driven by local politics.

“Compared to the rest of the state, connectivity is a major problem in Chamba region where hills are fragile and prone to natural disasters. Road tunnels are the only way to improve the connectivity in the district which has little scope of railway and airports,” he added.

“Government has sanctioned Rs 4 crore for the DPR of the Chamba-Chowari tunnel, but before going ahead with this project, the government should consider other options,” he said.

He said the tunnel from Dunali (Chamba) to Shahpur (Kangra) was a far better option if larger public interest is taken into consideration.

Ashok Thakur, a resident of Dunali, said for being equidistance from both Chamba and Bhamrour, this tunnel would benefit a larger population and provide convenient access to both the Kangra airport and the Tanda Medical College, besides spurring the economy and tourism in the area.

With Chamba getting representation in the Rajya Sabha through Harsh Mahajan, Chowfla expressed that Mahajan would advocate for their needs at the Centre, given his familiarity with the region’s topography and the challenges faced by the people of Chamba.

Meanwhile, residents of the tribal Pangi region have been waiting for over fifty years for the construction of a tunnel under the Chehni pass. Spread across 1,595 square km, Pangi Valley is a home to 25,000 people, residing in 55 villages under 19 panchayats. Despite its natural beauty, the valley’s isolation and poor road connectivity hinders access to essential services.

“The demand for the construction of the Chehni pass tunnel was prior to the demand raised by the residents of Lahaul for the construction of the Rohtang pass tunnel, which after commissioning is known as the Atal Tunnel,” said Trilok Thakur, president of the Pangwal Ekta Manch, a forum which has been actively raising the demand on various platforms in the state and with Central government.

Thakur said a pre-feasibility study report for Rs 1,990 crore was sent to the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways by the state government in 2017, but no headway was achieved after that. He added that the case of Pangi tunnel was different from the tunnels in other parts of the district as it arises out of extreme necessity.

#Chamba


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