Finally, recognition for ‘father of Manali-Leh Highway’

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A daring and an intelligent officer, can rightfully be called the 'Father of Manali-Leh Highway'. The officer breathed his last at a very young age of 27 years at Gyantsee (Tibet) for the sake of our country. Border Road Organization and the people of Himachal Pradesh salute the gallant officer for his contribution."

These words, etched on the stone in the memory of Sukhdev Singh Gill — assistant executive engineer of Central Engineering Services (Class 1) — recently installed by the Border Road Organization (BRO) at Rohtang Pass, Manali-Sarchu road, have at last recognised the heroics of a martyr who died at 27.

Gill was the first man who reached a height of 17,500 feet at Taglang La to conduct surveys for future highways in the area. The first recognition — after over 57 years of his work and 54 years of his death — came after Jagdev Singh Gill, his brother, wrote to the government "giving proof" of Gill's achievements.

Gill who had also cleared IAS, did his engineering from Punjab Engineering College in Roorkee in 1954. He was then posted as the assistant executive engineer at the high altitude areas between Manali and Leh in August-September 1955.

Flipping the pages of a handwritten survey report of Gill with photographs of his journey across the snow-clad mountains of Manali and Ladakh on foot, Jagdev said: "After conducting survey at Leh, he volunteered for a posting in Tibet, where no one was ready to go. He stayed there for a year and was returning to New Delhi in 1958 for his wedding with the niece of then defence minister Baldev Singh. Suddenly, he fell ill and fainted. Local Tibetan doctors attended to him but his health deteriorated and he died."

A condolence letter, accompanied by some photographs of a bed-ridden Gill and his cremation in Tibet, reached the family in Ludhiana through M R Sachdeva, an Indian Civil Services officer, in 1958. "An able officer and he gallantly volunteered for service of Gyantsee knowing fully well the difficult conditions of the station. The department has lost a very promising officer with high sense of duty," read the letter.

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