Sonamarg (Jammu and Kashmir) [India], September 28 (ANI): India is likely to get "World's Highest and Asia's longest" bi-directional all-weather Zojila tunnel ahead of next Lok Sabha elections in 2024.
The construction of the 13.5-km long Zojila tunnel which connects Sonamarg in Jammu and Kashmir to Minamarg in Ladakh is scheduled to be completed by September 2026.
However, after inspecting the ongoing construction work of the project, Union Minister of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) Nitin Gadkari on Tuesday gave a new target to the Megha Engineering and Infrastructure Ltd (MEIL), which bagged the project in October 2020, to complete the project by December 2023, three years earlier than its original deadline of September 2026.
The minister said, "The completion of the project on paper is September 2026 but I have given them a target to complete the project by December 2023. It will create a new world record if we achieve the target three years before its scheduled time."
Gadkari also requested the firm constructing the project to complete its work by December 2023, saying "all clearance and everything is there now and there is no problem from the state government and forest clearance."
"We will provide all support and I will personally monitor things. If you (MEIL) faces any problem, they can come to meet me... We have to complete this project before 2024 as there is a (Lok Sabha) election at that time," Gadkari said.
Situated on the Srinagar-Leh National Highway, the Zojila tunnel is envisaged to provide all-weather connectivity to Union Territory (UT) of Ladakh to Srinagar in Jammu and Kashmir.
"It (Zojila tunnel) is the World's highest tunnel. The height of the tunnel from the surface is 11,575 feet. The length of the tunnel is 14.5 km. The length of the approach road is 18.47 km and the work in this project is also going on. The total combined length of both the Zojila tunnel and the approach road is 32.62 km," he added.
"The total cost of the project including land acquisition would be around Rs 6,800 crores. We saved around Rs 4,000 crore to Rs 5,000 crore in this project as the final tender received by the Ministry of approximately was Rs 11,000 crore," said Gadkari.
Noting that the government is working on six important projects in Jammu and Kashmir, Gadkari further said, "We are constructing a 32-km tunnel in Jammu and Kashmir as well as 20 km tunnel in Ladakh and Leh that include Zojila."
Zojila tunnel is quite significant in nature and will help to keep Ladakh connected for the whole year with the rest of the country. The tunnel will also boost the tourism sector of both Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir and keep the hassle-free movement of the armed forces during any weather conditions.
The project site of the Zojila tunnel is located at the existing highway (NH-01) starting from Sonamarg in Jammu and Kashmir and ending at Minamarg in Ladakh at an elevation ranging from 2,700 m to 3,300 m, thus making it the longest tunnel at this elevation in Asia region.
The present site location falls into seismic zone IV and all precautionary measures have been provisioned to safeguard the structures provisioned in the project.
Presently, the road from Srinagar to Leh is not open all year round as it is not suitable for vehicular movement. Connectivity is limited to only five months in a year owing to extreme snowfall during winters. The existing Srinagar-Ladakh highway is closed from mid-November to April, cutting off this entire region from the rest of the world. This poses a big hurdle for the movement of the Army and military vehicles.
The alternative routes are long-winding and time-consuming, resulting in huge expenditures. Moreover, these alternative routes are closer to the Indo-China and Indo-Pakistan borders. Therefore, a strategic alternative was the need of the hour and then, the Zojila Tunnel project comes in.
Once the tunnel is completed, travel between Srinagar and Ladakh throughout the year will become a reality.
While the distance will be reduced (from Baltal to Minamarg) from 40 km to 13 km, travel time too will be reduced by 1.5 hours between the two Union Territories.
The journey will be less strenuous as the roads will be evenly paved. The project will lead to the integrated development of both the Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh regions, at maximum speed. (ANI)