Union Minister Anurag Singh Thakur inspects the Zojila Tunnel, in Kargil on Sunday
Srinagar: Racing against time, engineers and workers are fast-tracking the construction of the strategic Zojila tunnel, which would be an engineering marvel in such harsh terrain. Recently, Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari not only met engineers in Sonamarg, but also inspected the alternative tunnel which is ready for controlled traffic to Sonamarg even during the winters. Gadkari expressed satisfaction over the construction work of the Zojila tunnel and said that he has directed the authorities to complete the approaching tunnels before the 2024 parliamentary elections.
Gadkari, who was in Ganderbal district and was one of the ministers who visited Jammu and Kashmir in the recent past, told media that he is confident that Ladakh Union Territory will get all-weather connectivity within the stipulated timeline. “It would be a game-changer for our socio-economic development. The BJP government is showing seriousness for all-weather road connectivity to Ladakh and we will benefit in a huge way,” Asgar Ali from Kargil told this newspaper, as the people of Kargil, along with Leh, are eagerly waiting for this winter connectivity.
At present, the Srinagar-Ladakh highway is closed for at least six months during the winters as the Sonamarg and Zojila areas witness heavy snowfall and the road is cleared only in April every year. While briefing Gadkari, Brigadier GS Kambo, executive director, National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd (NHIDCL), said that the tunnel which is now complete will not only reduce the distance between Srinagar and Sonamarg, but also will reduce the distance 40 km to 13 km from Baltal to Minamarg; thus, it would be the first winter when Sonamarg can host tourists during the snow.
Although the Centre is focusing on the completion of the Zojila tunnel project, it has a lot of constraints which are being fought by the engineers on the ground as the completion of the tunnel will be an achievement. According to the engineers on the ground, it would be Asia’s longest bi-directional tunnel. Several bridges are being constructed in this route and work is picking up pace with more men and machinery even during these days of autumn.
It is in place to mention that the Zojila tunnel is being constructed at the cost of Rs 4,600 crore (contracted cost), along with a 13.5-km approach road.
The project also has three major bridges and minor bridges which are within the contracted cost. Megha Engineering Infrastructure Limited (MEIL) is constructing this tunnel which would be a game-changer for tourism both in Ladakh and in the health resort of Sonamarg in Kashmir on this side of Zojila.