Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services (IL&FS) – the makers of India's longest highway tunnel between Chenani and Nashri in Jammu and Kashmir – have sent a team of experts to check problems of high pollution and poor visibility being faced by commuters inside the tunnel, an official said on Monday.
"A team of experts has been sent to the tunnel site to check the problems of poor visibility caused by high pollution level inside the tunnel," said Ashutosh Chandwar, Vice President of IL&FS.
The complaints made by the commuters needed to be probed thoroughly, Chandwar added.
The IL&FS formed the experts’ team after commuters regularly using the newly-inaugurated state-of-the-art tunnel complained of eye irritation and suffocation inside the tube due to high pollution level.
Balvinder Singh, a Delhi-based orthopaedic surgeon from Jammu, said he suffered breathing problems when he was inside the tunnel built with Austrian technology at a cost of Rs 2,900 crore ($450 million) and inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 2 April.
The ventilation system inside the tunnel probably doesn’t work effectively. As soon as we enter the tunnel during peak hours, the visibility starts plummeting. If we travel with the windows down, the pollution level rises. It causes breathing issues as well.
"It feels as if we are passing through a gas chamber," the surgeon said.
Anil Manhas, who works with the Jammu and Kashmir Education Department, uses the tunnel that has reduced the 41-km distance between Chenani in Udhampur to Nashri in Rambhan to just 11 km, slashing his travel time from two-and-a-half hours to a mere 10 minutes.
I took it lightly when I used the tunnel for the first time. I had irritation in my eyes. It was also smoke-filled. This is happening regularly now and I think the ventilation system is not working. If this prevails for long... there are chances of vehicles meeting with accidents due to poor visibility.
But Ashutosh Chandwar contended that the problem has to do with claustrophobia caused by travel though such a long and confined space.
I do not know why the passengers are feeling such problems... There is absolutely no possibility of it. Whenever there is pollution inside the tunnel, its ventilation system will automatically start and exhaust out the pollution. What people are suffering is phobia of travelling through a long tunnel.
He said the ventilation system of the tunnel was "well-tested and can tackle every kind of pollution inside the tunnel".
The 9.2-km-long tunnel has a transverse ventilation system, which the commuters say is not working properly.
Environmentalist Vivek Chattopadhyay said pollution levels inside such a long tunnel were bound to increase, but could be controlled if the ventilation functions properly.
"The traffic congestion due to the continuous flow of all kinds of vehicles is another major problem," said Bhushan, a Jammu resident who works with the state government.
The NHAI had earlier said vehicles below BS-III engines won't be allowed in.
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