With four attempts since 2013 to build the Zojila tunnel in Jammu & Kashmir via private participation coming a cropper, the Modi government has decided to construct the facility with its own funds. The proposed 14.08-km tunnel will provide all-weather connectivity between Srinagar and the Leh-Ladakh region, and has great strategic significance.
According to the latest estimate, the highway tunnel, envisaged to the largest in South East Asia, would cost over R10,000 crore.
Official sources told FE that, located at an an altitude of 11,578 feet on Srinagar-Kargil-Leh national highway, the single tune bi-directional tunnel will be supplemented with a 10.8-km approach road with vertical ventilation shafts, snow gallery and avalanche protection measures. The facility, they added, would ensure connectivity to the Leh Ladakh region during the winter season; currently, the stretch remains completely inaccessible from rest of the country due to extreme weather conditions.
The project was originally proposed to be developed in the build-operate-transfer (annuity) model. Following the Cabinet clearance way back in 2013, government tried at least four times to award the project via the BOT (annuity) route.
In the first request for qualification (RFQ) tender invited in April, 2013, though four agencies purchased the document, only one submitted the application and as per the rule, the tender process was cancelled. The second tender issued a few months later also elicited response from only one party.
With such experience, it was decided to change the tendering system wherein instead of two-stage, single-stage system was introduced and again just one bidder participated. While tender was re-invited in December last year, only one bidder came again, but the winner, IRB Infrastructure Developers, found to be qualified on all parameters. But, following allegations of favouritism, road transport and highways minister Nitin Gadkari ordered cancellation of the contract.
The task of building the tunnel has been entrusted with National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd (NHIDCL).
As reported by FE earlier, the ministry of road transport and highways will ask for a budgetary allocation of Rs 91,000 crore for 2017-18, up 57% from the current year’s outlay. Gadkari has set ambitious targets of awarding highway projects of 25,000-km and building 15,000-km-long such roads during 2016-17. The minister is keen that highway construction is not hit by paucity of funds, even as private developers and banks remain wary of the sector. Therefore, most projects that are currently being implemented are in the conventional engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) category, which are fully funded by the government.