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Atal Tunnel at Rohtang: Meet The Kerala Engineer Behind the Engineering Marvel

Atal Tunnel at Rohtang: Meet The Kerala Engineer Behind the Engineering Marvel

Measuring 9.02 km long, the “world’s longest highway tunnel” connects Manali to the Lahaul-Spiti Valley throughout the year. The Valley was earlier cut off for six months each year because of heavy snowfall.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the world’s longest highway tunnel (above 10,000 feet)—Atal Tunnel—situated at an altitude of 3,000 metres from the mean sea level (MSL) in Himachal Pradesh.

Measuring 9.02 km long, this tunnel is an engineering marvel which connects Manali to the Lahaul-Spiti Valley throughout the year. The Valley was earlier cut off for six months each year because of heavy snowfall. Built with ultra-modern specifications in the Pir Panjal range of the Himalayas, this tunnel will reduce the distance between Manali and Leh (in Ladakh) by 46 kms and shorten the commute time by four to five hours.

“Vehicles will be able to travel at a maximum speed of 80 kmph. The tunnel also provides for a telephone every 150 metres, fire hydrants every 60 metres and emergency gates every 500 metres. There is a turning cavern every 2.2 km and air quality monitoring systems every one km. Broadcasting system and automatic incident detection system with CCTV cameras are also placed at every 250 metres,” notes this India Today report.

Atal Tunnel (Image courtesy Facebook)

On a given day, around 3,000 cars and 1,500 trucks can travel through the tunnel. Also, unlike many other infrastructure projects in India, the tunnel project ended up saving more than Rs 800 crore of public tax money. The tunnel project, which was estimated to cost Rs 4,083 crore, was completed for just Rs 3,200 crore.

A key personality behind the timely construction of this engineering marvel, which took 10 years to complete (originally slated for completion in six years), was Kerala’s very own Brigadier KP Purushothaman, a chief engineer with the Border Roads Organisation (BRO).

Here are 10 things you should know about this remarkable engineer:

1) A native of Echoor (or Eachur) village in Kannur district, Kerala, Brigadier Purushothaman holds a degree in civil engineering, besides a PG Diploma and MBA in construction management. He cleared the UPSC exam in 1987 and joined the BRO subsequently.

2) Brigadier Purushothaman is the father of two children—Varun and Tuvika. While Varun is training for a postgraduate course after completing his MBBS, Yuvika is in the United States finishing her higher studies following an engineering degree.

3) Speaking to Manorama Online, his wife, Sindhu, a native of Thalassery, Kerala, describes him as a workaholic who is both calm and considers “each challenge as an opportunity”.

4) BRO chief engineer KP Purushothaman’s first posting was in the remote Andaman and Nicobar Islands as an assistant executive engineer.

5) During his tenure with the BRO, he has served in frontier border states like Nagaland, Rajasthan, Mizoram, Jammu and Kashmir, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, besides involvement in the construction of key road projects bordering China and Pakistan.

6) The chief engineer served in Kerala on deputation for two years (2015 to 2017). In recognition of his work, he was awarded the Vishisht Seva Medal in 2019, a decoration of the Indian armed forces which recognises “distinguished service of a high order”.

7) Last December, during the construction of the Atal Tunnel project last year, KP Purushothaman saved the life of a Lahaul resident, Madan Lal, who suffered a serious head injury. Since the district hospital in Keylong wasn’t equipped to treat him, the chief engineer gave his personal vehicle to ferry Lal through the tunnel to Kullu for timely treatment, according to this report in The Tribune.

8) Brigadier Purushothaman exhibited a great deal of caution and care during the construction of the Atal Tunnel keeping in mind the safety of the workers since temperatures could fall to as a low as -30 degrees C.

Speaking to Manorama, he said, “Continuous work at such heights can affect health. The shift and workers for the task were finalised with this in mind. At every stage, we proceeded with caution and with adequate safety measures as the tunnel project required extreme care.”

It was originally slated for completion in 6 years, but because of the safety hazards involved and the necessary precautions required, it took 10. Also, there were no positive COVID-19 cases reported from the site.

9) He further elaborates on the difficulty his team had to navigate. “The job involves ripping open the earth. As such, no matter how many safety precautions are taken, natural disasters can never be ruled out and they can come in many forms, which could result in even loss of life. There were many hurdles we faced — from landslides and mudslides to rocks flying around after explosions. This complex mission was completed by overcoming all such obstructions,” said Brigadier Purushothaman to Manorama.

10) He refuses to take total credit for the project. Instead, on multiple occasions, he has paid tribute to the 3,000 workers, 770 engineers, supervisors, consultants and contractors, who he says, worked 24 hours a day in three shifts with very few breaks to make this happen.

“This is a very proud moment not only for BRO but for the whole country…This tunnel is an example of Atma Nirbhar Bharat,” said the Brigadier earlier this week.

(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)

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