Defence Minister of the country Shri Rajnath Singh ji, Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh Shri Jairam Thakur ji, my Cabinet colleague and the young son of Himachal Anurag Thakur ji, Ministers of the Himachal Pradesh Government, other people's representatives, Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat ji, Army Chief, everyone associated with Border Road Organization, Ministry of Defence and my brothers and sisters from Himachal Pradesh!
Today is a historic day. Today, not only Atalji's dream has been fulfilled but the decades old wait crores of people from Himachal Pradesh has also ended.
I am very fortunate to have got the opportunity to launch the Atal Tunnel today. And just as Rajnath ji said, I used to look after the work of the organization here and have spent the best days of my life in the mountains and valleys of this place. When Atalji used to visit and stay in Manali, I would visit him and we would have chats. And one day me and Dhumal ji were drinking tea and discussing this topic with him and made a request to him. And Atalji was keenly listening to us with his eyes wide open as if he was deeply studying us. Every now and then, he would nod in agreement with our ideas. Ultimately, the matter about which I and Dhumal ji used to discuss in front of him, had become Atalji's dream; and today we can see it before our eyes as an accomplishment. You can imagine the level of satisfaction it can bring into one's life!
Just a few minutes back, we all have watched a movie and I have also seen a pictorial exhibition there – “The making of Atal Tunnel”. Often those people, whose hard work has made all this possible, are left behind in the pomp and show of the launch. We could show our unflinching resolve today when we were able to pierce through the impregnable Pir Panjal ranges. Today I salute the hard working men like soldiers, engineers, all the worker brothers and sisters who have risked their lives for this great project.
Atal Tunnel is going to be the lifeline of a large part of Himachal Pradesh as well as the new Union Territory of Leh-Ladakh. Now, this vast area of Himachal Pradesh and Leh-Ladakh will always be connected to the rest of the country and will move faster on the path of development.
With this tunnel, the distance between Manali and Keylong will be reduced by 3-4 hours. My brothers and sisters from these hills understand very well what it means to have a reduced distance of 3-4 hours on hilly terrains!
Farmers, horticulturists and youth of Leh, Ladakh will now have easy access to the capital of Delhi and other markets. Their risk will also be reduced. Moreover, this tunnel is also strengthening the connection between the Holy land of Himachal and Buddhist tradition, which is showing a new path and new light to the whole world after originating from India. Heartiest congratulations to Himachal and all the friends from Leh, Ladakh for the same!
Atal Tunnel is also going to give a fresh boost to India's border infrastructure. This is a living evidence of world-class border connectivity. Be it a part of the Himalayas, the deserts of Western India or the coastal areas of South and Eastern India, it is a huge resource both for the security and prosperity of the country. There has always been a demand to develop the infrastructure here to ensure a balanced and complete development of these areas. But for a long time, the infrastructure projects connected to the border here either did not proceed beyond the planning stage or were in a limbo. The case was similar even with the Atal Tunnel.
In 2002, Atal ji had laid the foundation stone for the approach road for this tunnel. After Atal ji's government moved out of power, even this work was stalled and forgotten. The situation was such that till 2013-14, only 1300 meters of the tunnel was built i.e. work for less than 1.5Km was done.
Experts say that if the work on Atal tunnel had continued with the same speed, then this tunnel would have been completed by the year 2040. Just Imagine! Add 20 more years to your present age. And the dream would have been fulfilled by that time!
When one wants to move on the path of development at a rapid pace and there is a strong desire for the development of the people of the country, then the speed has to be increased. So, the work on the Atal Tunnel had also been accelerated after 2014. Every bottleneck the BRO faced was resolved.
As a result, while only 300 metres tunnel was being built every year once upon a time, its speed increased to 1400 metres per year. In just 6 years we have completed 26 years of work!
The delay in the construction work of such a big and crucial infrastructure project causes a lot of harm to the country in every way. It not only causes a delay in providing facilities to the people but the country also has to bear the brunt of the same at the economic level.
As per the assessment done in the year 2005, this tunnel was supposed to be ready in about Rs950 crores but due to continuous delays, today it was completed at a cost of more than three times i.e., more than Rs 3200 crores. Just imagine what the situation would have been if it had taken another 20 years!
Connectivity is directly related to the development of the country. Greater connectivity means faster development. Especially in the border areas, connectivity is directly related to the country's defence requirements. But the kind of seriousness that was needed, the kind of political willpower that was needed, was unfortunately not shown.
Like the Atal Tunnel, many other important projects were meted the same treatment. The strategically vital air strip in Ladakh i.e. Daulat Beg Oldi remained closed for 40–50 years. What was the compulsion, what was the pressure, I don't want to get into that. Much has been said and written about it. But the truth is that Daulat Beg Oldi air strip was reopened by the efforts of the Air Force; and not by any political will.
I can count dozens of projects that may have been strategically important as well as in terms of convenience, but have been ignored for years.
I remember I was in Assam on the occasion of Atalji's birthday, about two years ago. It was there that I had the opportunity to dedicate the longest railroad bridge of India, the 'Bogibeel Bridge' to the country. Today, this bridge is a major medium of connectivity with North East and Arunachal Pradesh. Work on the Bogibeel Bridge had also started during the time of Atalji's tenure, but after his government went out of power, the work on this bridge was stalled. But after 2014, this work gained momentum and within four years this bridge was completed.
The name of another bridge is associated with Atal ji i.e. Kosi Mahasetu. Atalji had also laid the foundation stone of Kosi Mahasetu connecting the two parts of Mithilanchal in Bihar, but this work too remained in a limbo.
We also got the work for Kosi Mahasetu expedited in 2014 after we formed the government. Just a few days back, Kosi Mahasetu has also been launched.
This had been the condition of the major projects related to connectivity in almost every part of the country. But the situation is changing now at a rapid pace. Unprecedented efforts have been made during the last 6 years in this direction, especially for the development of Border Infrastructure.
In the Himalayan region, be it Himachal, Jammu and Kashmir, Kargil-Leh-Ladakh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, dozens of projects have been completed and many projects are in progress. Be it the work of constructing a road, a bridge or building a tunnel, such work has never been done in these areas of the country on such a large scale.
Besides, our soldiers are benefiting a lot from this. A network of roads is being laid so that in the winter season they can easily get the logistics, their defence equipment, and can easily patrol.
The defence needs of the country; the needs and interests of those who protect the country, is one of the highest priorities of our government.
Our brothers and sisters of Himachal Pradesh still remember how the earlier governments treated One Rank One Pension. For four decades our ex-servicemen were only promised. They claimed they would implement One Rank One Pension by showing 500 crore rupees only on paper. But they still did not implement it. Today, lakhs of ex-servicemen of the country are getting the benefit of One Rank One Pension. The Central Government has given about 11 thousand crore rupees to the ex-servicemen just in arrears.
Almost 1 lakh Army personnel from Himachal Pradesh have also got the benefit. Our government's decisions bear witness to the fact that the decisions taken by us are implemented by us. There is nothing greater for us than the security and the welfare of the country. But the country has also witnessed a situation for al ong time when the defence interests of the country were compromised. The Air Force of the country kept asking for a modern fighter plane. But these people were engaged in the game of files.
Be it ammunition, modern rifles, bulletproof jackets, equipment for harsh winters and other items, everything was kept on hold. There was a time when the strength of our ordnance factories was enviable. But the ordnance factories of the country were left to their fate.
A world-class organization like HAL was created for indigenous fighter aircraft, helicopters in the country, but not enough attention was paid to boost it. The self-seeking people in power over the years prevented our military capabilities from being strengthened and rather harmed it.
These people had also tried to stall the idea of Tejas fighter aircraft, which the country is proud of today. This was the truth about these people.
Now this situation is changing in the country. Major reforms have been brought to develop modern weapons and equipment in the country under 'Make in India'. After a long wait, the system of Chief of Defence Staff is now part of our system.
This has led to a better coordination in both procurement and production as per the requirements of the country's forces. Now there are many items which have been banned for imports. Those goods are now required to be purchased only from the Indian companies.
Indian institutions are now being given a variety of incentives to ensure the flow of foreign investments and foreign technology into the defence industry in India. As India's global role is changing, we need to keep our infrastructure at the same pace to increase its economic and strategic potential.
The confidence of a self-reliant India has become a part of the mindset of the people today. Atal Tunnel is a symbol of this confidence.
Once again, I congratulate all of you! My heartiest congratulations and best wishes to Himachal Pradesh and lakhs of friends from Leh-Ladakh!
I cannot say how much authority I have over Himachal, but Himachal has much to demand from me. Despite the time being very short in today's programme, the love of Himachal Pradesh has put so much pressure on me that three programmes have been organised today. After this, I have to speak in two more events within a very short time. And so I am not going to talk in detail here. I am keeping a few things for the other two events.
But I would like to give some suggestions here. My suggestions are for the Ministry of Defence of the Government of India, the Ministry of Education of the Government of India, and for the BRO as well. This tunnel is unique in terms of engineering and work culture. About 1000-1500 people associated with this project, ranging from a worker to the top official can be asked about their experiences since the inception of its design till now and everything can be documented in their own languages. If 1500 people write about the entire effort - their thoughts during the work or during a challenge they faced; what happened; how it had happened and when - there will be a documentation that will have a human touch. I am not asking for an academic documentation. This will be a document that will contain a human touch. Probably the construction worker must have worked despite food not being delivered on time. How he must have worked in those times! These things have great importance. Sometimes, some equipment might not have arrived due to snow; how they might have worked!
Probably an engineer might have faced a challenge. I would like at least 1500 people, working at every level, to write their experiences and document it in 5, 6 or 10 or pages. Give this responsibility to one person, and after editing the language, document the entire thing. No need to print it. You can just create it in a digital format.
Secondly, I urge the Ministry of Education that the students from all the technical and engineering related Universities in our country should be given case studies. And every year a batch of eight to ten children from each university must come here and study the conception of this project, the process, the challenges and how those were dealt with. The students of our country must have the engineering knowledge about the tunnel which is the longest in the world and at the world's highest place.
Moreover, I would like MEA to invite some Universities from around the world. Universities from abroad must come here for case study and to study the project. Our strength should be recognized in the world. Our strength should be known to the world. The world should know how amazing things our Youth (Jawan) of the present generation can accomplish, despite limited resources.
And that's why I would like the Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Education, MEA and BRO together to make this tunnel a part of education in a continuous way. If a whole new generation gets ready with this, the Tunnel Infrastructure will be built. At the same time, human resource development is also a huge task. This tunnel can also be used to create our best engineers and we should work in that direction too.
I once again congratulate you all. I thank you very much! And I congratulate the Youth (Jawans) who have done this work well and have brought glory to the country.