Every year, when heavy snowfall high up the Rohtang Pass closes the road connectivity to the valley in Lahaul-Spiti district for at least five months, the lone state-run helicopter, which normally operates once in a week to transport the locals, is the only mode of transportation.

"We want timely completion of the Rohtang tunnel to end our miseries forever," octogenarian Khajana Ram, a resident of Keylong, said.

He said an abnormal delay in completing work on the tunnel, a strategically important project beneath the Rohtang Pass that will ensure all-weather connectivity to the valley, was a matter of concern.

Added Sonam Dolkar in Sissu village, "No vegetable other than peas and potatoes that grow locally reach here once the road links snap in December. For five months, we have to relish only the stored vegetables and meat."

The Rs 1,495-crore tunnel's foundation stone was laid by United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi on June 28, 2010, in the picturesque Solang Valley near here.

Official sources said that the horse-shoe-shaped 8.8-km-long tunnel that missed its February 2015 deadline is likely to be completed by 2017. They said digging was over in half of the tunnel but the delay will face a cost overrun of Rs500-600 crore.

Ravi Thakur, vice chairperson of the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes, said that he had apprised Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the abnormal delay in its execution.

The project is being built by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) in collaboration with Strabag-Afcons, a joint venture between India's Afcons Infrastructure Ltd and Strabag SE of Austria.

An official associated with the project said that high water seepage and loose strata have severely hit the tunnel's excavation.

But for 20,000 people of the cold deserts of Lahaul Valley, 122 km north of picturesque Manali, the tunnel is a ray of prosperity.

The Buddhist-dominated district in the Himalayan terrain at elevations ranging from 15,000 feet to 20,000 feet above sea level attracts globetrotters during summer.

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