Zojila tunnel work begins, will ensure all-weather connectivity b/w Srinagar & Leh 

Abid Bashir

Srinagar (NVI): The construction work of Zojila Tunnel in Jammu and Kashmir’s Ganderbal district began today. The 14.15 km longest tunnel road in Asia will ensure all-weather connectivity between Srinagar and Leh on NH-1.

The work on the strategic tunnel began after Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari initiated the first ceremonial blasting. The construction work of the tunnel has been assigned to National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL).

The idea for the tunnel was conceived first in 2004 by the then government at Centre and the erstwhile State of J&K.

Officials said the total cost of the project is Rs 7,000 Crore. Speaking on the occasion, Divisional Commissioner, Kashmir PK Pole said that he was glad to see work starting on the ambitious road project and was hopeful that the tunnel will be completed within a stipulated time frame. “I wish the construction agency all the best,” he said. “The tunnel is going to be Asia’s longest all-weather tunnel.” He said the tunnel will remain open for the maximum period of the year.

Officials said that the project holds strategic significance as the Zozila Pass is located at an altitude of 11,578 feet. The tunnel is also being constructed at a time when India-China relations have soured in Ladakh due to Chinese incursions in Eastern Ladakh where peace talks between Indian and Chinese army officials are on to de-escalate the tensions.

The tunnel will hold also strategic importance as troops movement from Srinagar to Ladakh can take place throughout the year as the road will be all-weather.

During winters, the Srinagar-Leh route remains closed due to heavy snowfall, thereby cutting off the Ladakh region from Kashmir. “The project was conceived to bring an all-round economic development and socio-cultural integration of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh and was given to the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL) in July 2016 for implementation on Engineering, Procurement, and Construction (EPC) model,” officials said.

The ambitious project got stalled for some period due to the hectic tendering process. Work was awarded to M/s ITNL (ILFS) at Rs 4,899.42 crore and approval of the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) was obtained for a total project cost of Rs 6,808.69 crore for completion within seven years.

Sources said that the contract agreement was signed on January 24, 2018. “Work progressed up to July 2018 but the project was stuck due to financial problems faced by ILFS. The contract was terminated on January 15, 2019,” they said.

They said that in February 2020, Gadkari reviewed this whole project in detail, and in order to reduce the cost and execute this project on priority, the matter was referred to an expert committee. “After expert committee deliberations and consequent to approval, NHIDCL (National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation) invited the bids in June this year,” they said.

Comparing to the present cost of the integrated project, based on the tender received at Rs 4509.5 crore, the total capital cost of the project would be Rs 6808.63 crore, they said.