Buoyed by strong FDI inflows and public-private partnership models, India's infrastructure sector remains the core focus of government's policy initiatives and investment plans with projects of massive scale and world-class stature. The recently opened Atal Tunnel - the world's longest highway tunnel - is a case in point.
The inauguration of Atal Tunnel - the world's longest highway tunnel - has not only brought global attention to seamlessly connectivity between mountainous Indian regions in Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, but also shone the spotlight on India's burgeoning infrastructure sector, a key driver of the country's economic growth. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week inaugurated the Atal Tunnel in Himachal Pradesh's Rohtang - which connects Solang Valley near Manali to Sissu in Lahaul and Spiti district.
At 9.02km, the Atal Tunnel is the longest highway tunnel in the world and has been built at an altitude of 3,000 meters, cutting through mountains west of the Rohtang La. This unique feat of engineering will shorten the distance between the two points by around 46km - and what was earlier a 4-hour journey will now take only around 15 minutes throughout the year.
“Atal tunnel will give new strength to India's border infrastructure. It is an example of world-class border connectivity,” Prime Minister Modi said during the inauguration. “There have been demands to improve border infrastructure but for a long time, such projects either couldn't get out of the planning stage or got stuck midway. Connectivity has a direct connection with development. Connectivity in border areas is directly related to security issues,” he added.
The double-laned tunnel can handle around 3,000 cars and 1,500 trucks per day, with a maximum speed of 80 km per hour.
Apart from its geostrategic importance, the tunnel will also play a vital role in connecting people and businesses from India's remote northern corners to the heartlands of trade and commerce. Farmers, horticulturalists and young entrepreneurs will now also have easy access to Delhi, Mumbai and other markets.
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Coupled with other recent major infrastructure marvels such as the Chenab Bridge - the world's tallest rail bridge linking Katra and Banihal as part of the Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla section of the Kashmir Railway project, Atal Tunnel is also a testimony to India's growing prowess in the infrastructure sector and how it remains the focus of the government's policy initiatives and investment plans.
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Whether it's the National Infrastructure Pipeline (NIP) that was launched in 2019 to invest about $13 billion on infrastructure projects by 2024-25, or the inflow of $100 million funding for the Indian infrastructure sector from the Asian Development Bank through the government-promoted National Investment and Infrastructure Fund (NIIF), or attracting foreign direct investments worth $25.6 billion in verticals such as townships, construction development projects and housing between 2000-19, the government has remained laser-focused on implementing infrastructure programmes of massive scale through a wide variety of investment vehicles. The result is not only a new-found impetus in infrastructure projects, but also in reviving critical plans that were lying abandoned for years or decades.
“Many other important projects were treated in the same way as Atal tunnel. The strategically important Daulat Beg Oldi airstrip in Ladakh remained closed for 40-45 years. I don't want to go into details as to what was the helplessness and the pressure behind it,” Prime Minister Modi said, highlighting how the government is working overtime to upgrade and boost India's creaking infrastructure. “Emphasis has been put on the development of border infrastructure. Its benefits are being extended to the common people as well as our armed forces personnel. There is nothing more important for us than protecting the country. But the country has also seen a period when the defense interests of the country were compromised,” Modi said.
One of the key fulcrums of the growth in infrastructure has been strong FDI inflows and the active pursuit of the public-private partnership model to create world-class projects.
As a result, India can now be found on the global infrastructure map for constructing some of the world's largest infrastructure projects: building tunnels of the longest lengths, skyscrapers of record heights, stadiums with huge seating capacity for hosting international sporting events, rail bridges across treacherous mountains for better connectivity between states, large greenfield airports for handling increasing passenger traffic and many more.