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Tunnel Vision

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We, the Government 

By Hugh & Colleen Gantzer

A headline on Sunday, (GP 19.7.20), caught our eyes. It read: Ganesh Joshi thanks CM for approval of Mussoorie-Kempty Fall Road Tunnel. Headlines are meant to grab eyeballs. The truth emerges only after a little digging; so we dug.

To start with, the CM has not approved the project. All he has, apparently, done is to approve an examination of the feasibility of the project. Presumably, he wants the opinion of technicians and other experts in a Project Report. This is the right approach. An earlier government spent a lot of money examining the possibility of slaking Mussoorie’s increasing thirst by pumping up water from the Jumna. It also laid pipelines, at great expense, to convert our town’s septic-tank-based sewage system into a Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) one. Both are necessary for the civic health of Mussoorie. Both are languishing. The only ones who profited by those two schemes were those involved with the initial studies, and their neta-babu friends!

The tunnel could be a convenience; it is certainly not essential for the well-being of Mussoorie’s voters! It could also be very dangerous.

In principle, tunnels are a good way of solving the problems of transportation in mountainous lands. But tunnels also destabilise already fragile mountains. A report carried in a national daily, also on 19.7.20, is disturbing. It quotes US Geophysicist Roger Bilham as saying “… the Himalayas are the only place in the world where a large earthquake can occur on land.” This is ominous. Before starting this project we must seek the opinion of the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, in Dehra.

Among the many things kept from the voters is the likely length of the tunnel, but it would seem to stretch all the way under the western spur of Mussoorie. That would make it a very long and very deep excavation. Judging from the rail and road tunnels we have travelled through in Switzerland, such a tunnel would need to have a 24×7, uninterrupted electricity supply. Its forced ventilation would have to be working all the time to clear toxic petro-fumes which would, quickly, suffocate users. Every living creature using that tunnel will breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon-dioxide. Those who have been stuck in the tunnel in the Shivaliks, linking Dehra with the plains, have experienced this: and that is a very short tunnel!

The tunnel would also need to have an impeccable drainage system. Even if the walls of the tunnel are completely water-tight, water will stream in from its entrances and be constantly introduced by the wheels of its traffic. Our mountains are made of limestone. Limestone absorbs some water and allows the rest of it to flow through. This seepage fills our springs which are the source of all our drinking water. Where will this natural percolation of water go if it is blocked by the impermeable walls of this long tunnel? Will it collect in the limestone, making the foundations of our town bulge? And then, suddenly, burst out creating devastating landslides?

Every major tunnel must have Escape Shafts to allow trapped people to flee. These emergency exits must be maintained constantly, even when the tunnel is not being used. Is our sarkari work-ethic so impeccable that we can guarantee this? If it can be assured then why is the Mussoorie-Dehra highway blocked so often?

The tunnel would connect an outlying area of Mussoorie with Kempty. Sadly, because of a lack of monitoring and control, Kempty Falls has been turned into a tourist slum. To justify the cost of constructing and maintaining this tunnel we need to assess its earning potential. The tunnel has to be maintained for 24 hours 365 days of the year. Will the revenue it generates justify the investment? Did the revenue generated by Dehra’s Ice Skating Rink justify the amount of public money poured into it?

The costs of such grandiose projects are borne by We, the Government.. It is our money and, therefore, it must get our OK.

Incidentally when was the road made by brewer Mackinnon, to transport his cart-loads of beer barrels, renamed the Cart MacKenzie Road?

And yes, we do know the literal and metaphorical definitions of “Tunnel Vision.”

(Hugh & Colleen Gantzer hold the National Lifetime Achievement Award for Tourism among other National and International awards. Their credits include over 52 half-hour documentaries on national TV under their joint names, 26 published books in 6 genres, and over 1,500 first-person articles, about every Indian state, UT and 34
other countries. Hugh was a Commander in the Indian Navy and the Judge Advocate, Southern Naval Command. Colleen is the only travel writer who is a member of the Travel Agents Association of India.)