Taking a leaf from Elon Musk

by Shahkar Abidi 25 Jul 2022


Elon Musk has a way of always being in the news. Whether it is the USD 43 billion buyout of Twitter, or his stymied India plans to launch Tesla in India and even as he did recently, post on twitter a picture of him meeting the Pope.

So this correspondent was gobsmacked when Musk’s loop project was mentioned in the context of the armed forces developing infrastructure projects. During a recent event, Lt Gen Rajeev Chaudhry, VSM, Director General, Border Roads Organisation (BRO) said, "What is Musk doing in Las Vegas where he is making 50 km long tunnels?” He added, “It aims to connect the Las Vegas Convention center to the resort world 2.7 km away. On the surface, it takes 30 min but through the tunnel only three minutes.”

Chaudhry was referring to a company that not many may know, the Boring Company, that Musk set up in 2017 to implement the tunnelling venture in a city known for its casinos, luxury resorts and theme parks.

A world away from the glitzy world of Las Vegas, the BRO, under Chaudhry’s able stewardship is building a tunnel that covers 4.25 km at an altitude of 15,855 feet at ShinkuLa which will connect Himachal Pradesh to Ladakh, and which when completed, will be the world's highest tunnel once completed.

Building roads at high altitudes is no child’s play, and the BRO do it almost effortlessly. Last August, the BRO completed a 52 km road over the Umling La pass which at 19,300 feet is higher than the base camps of Everest. As Chaudhury elaborates in a reference to urban India’s clogged roads, "Time is premium, highlighting the long hours of travelling in large Indian cities on account of bumper-to-bumper surface traffic, even though it may take relatively much less time to fly between two cities.”

The Shinku La project whose implementation is expected to start sometime this month,and which will be completed by 2025, has the potential to change the economic dynamics - boosting tourism - of the Zanskar valley, as travellers currently need to take a long detour travelling over 100 km from Manali to Darcha on Leh road before taking a turn towards the Shinku La pass.

Even as work around Shinku La pass is beginning to gather pace,the BRO says it working on executing Key-La tunnel project which once completed will have a length of 8.20 km at a height of 16125 feet, thereby make it even higher than Shinkun-La.

The Key La pass is located in the mountainous region of Changthang region of Leh. The BRO is working on throwing open the 9.80 km Brahmaputra tunnel which will make it the world's longest underwater, rail-cum-road tunnel.

BRO mandate
The Border Road Organisation (BRO), which is a part of India’s armed forces is mandated with providing infrastructural support to them, has seen its budget spend increase five-fold to 40 percent in the current year to Rs 13,500 crore over last year. It may even get enhanced to Rs 15,000 crore if things go well. Further, the plan is to increase the construction expenditures to over Rs 20,000 crore in next year. It remains to be seen if Musk’s plans for tunnels that aim to solve, as his website puts, the “soul-destroying” traffic snarls by building a network of underground tunnels, materialise, but for the BRO, the aims are, from a strategic perspective secure India’s border.

This article appears in the July 15, 2022 issue of Autocar Professional.

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Building roads at high altitudes

 


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