Once completed, the 14.5 kilometre long Zojila tunnel, which will be the longest bi-direction tunnel of Asia at a height of over 11,500 feet.
The Modi government wants the Zojila tunnel in Kashmir to be inaugurated before the year 2024 general elections hence asked the contractor to speed up the development work by about three years. During a recent inspection of the Zojila tunnel’s West portal in Baltal, Kashmir, the Union Minister said the work is supposed to be over by September 2026. The minister was quoted in an IE report saying that he has asked the authorities to finish the work by December 2023 so that PM Modi can inaugurate the tunnel before Republic Day of 2024. Once completed, the 14.5 kilometre long Zojila tunnel, which will be the longest bi-direction tunnel of Asia at a height of over 11,500 feet. The tunnel will provide all-weather, perennial connectivity between Ladakh and Kashmir, which is otherwise hampered during winters as the ancient Zojila pass is covered in snow and avalanches.
The Zojila tunnel, which is being constructed at a cost of over Rs 4,600 crore, is likely to become a critical asset for the armed forces. The Road Transport and Highways Minister gave the instruction on early completion to Krishna Reddy, MD of Megha Engineering and Infrastructure, who accompanied Gadkari to the tunnel. There are plans for 20 tunnels in J&K and as many as 11 tunnels in Ladakh. Currently, road projects worth approximately Rs 1 lakh crore are in progress in the region. The Union Minister said by 2024, there are plans to pump in projects worth another Rs 1 lakh crore.
According to Gadkari, during winters, the condition of the people gets very sad as they are cut off, with no supplies, no business, no medical aid. The minister believes that with these all-weather connectivity projects, the region will prosper. The minister described the infra connectivity projects, mainly consisting of tunnels, as the“heartline” of the region. In the construction of the two tunnels on the crucial Srinagar-Leh highways-Zojila as well as Z-Morh near Sonmarg. The minister said up to 4,000 local people have been given jobs in these projects.
The Zojila tunnel in Kashmir itself will be upgraded, as plans are afoot to develop an escape tunnel along the main tunnel, which will increase the cost, Gadkari informed. Once the tunnel is ready, the travel time will be reduced from the current 3.5 hours through the pass to a drive of 15 minutes, as per official estimates. To brace for the tourism boom that the government envisages, the Union Minister has pitched for local people to get trained in various skills in tourism and hotel management. The Road Transport and Highways Ministry, which also got the mandate to develop ropeways and cable cars, will also develop these to aid tourism covering seven lakes as well as a glacier.
On Tuesday, Gadkari also instructed officials to plant local flowers along the new highways being established as well as set up wayside amenities showcasing local culture and cuisine by locals. With approach roads of 18 kilometres on both sides, the tunnel will have three vertical shafts, fully lit, automatic fire alarm as well as control system along with complete CCTV camera coverage– all connected to a SCADA centre.