CONCERN: 8 years on, work on Qazigund-Banihal tunnel far from over

CONCERN: 8 years on, work on Qazigund-Banihal tunnel far from over

Much-hyped project marred by financial constraints, misses several deadlines

The work on the new Qazigund-Banihal tunnel is far from being accomplished despite the much-hyped project missing several deadlines since its start in 2011.

Initially set to be completed by June 2016, the work on the Rs 2100 crore ambitious project has been badly hit due to financial constraints and the concessionaire’s lethargic approach.

The national highway authority of India (NHAI) was authorised to construct two tunnels along the Srinagar-Jammu highway to reduce the travel distance and make it an all-weather route.

One of the tunnels was to be constructed between Chenani and Nashri and another between Qazigund and Banihal.

Even as the 10.5-km-long Chenani-Nashri tunnel was thrown open last year, the major part of the work on 8.5-km-long Qazigund-Banihal tunnel project is yet to take off.

The excavation work inside the tunnel was completed in May last year and the NHAI officials had assured the then government that its twin tubes would be made operational by January this year only.

However, they have now cited financial issues for delay in completion of the project.

“The work was halted for six months due to issue in the transfer of funds to the executing agency,” said Ghulam Qadir, project director NHAI.

He said they expect the funds to be disbursed within 10 days after which work will be started again.

“The project will now be completed by March 2020 only,” he said.

The tunnel with two parallel tubes—one for each direction—is being constructed by Indian infrastructure major Navayuga Engineering Co (NEC) at 1,790-m above sea level and would reduce the distance between two sides by more than 16 kilometers.

Each tube will be seven meters (23 ft) wide with two lanes.

“Only three kilometers work has been completed on either tube of the tunnel and the rest is pending,” another official said.

He said notwithstanding the treacherous terrain, the concessionaire has also been going at a sluggish pace.

The existing Jawahar tunnel—under the Banihal pass—is at an elevation of 2,194 meters (7,198 feet) making it prone to avalanches.

In winters, the highway—considered to be a lifeline for Kashmir—remains mostly closed or functional only for one-way traffic due to landslides and avalanches triggered by rains and snow, causing inconvenience to the people.

The closure results in depleting stocks of essential commodities and steep hike in prices of food grains routed to the Valley through the highway.

The road also remains prone to accidents and frequent traffic jams during adverse weather conditions

On Monday, a huge snow avalanche hit Jawahar tunnel blocking it completely and forcing the authorities to suspend the traffic on the highway.

The new Banihal-Qazigund tunnel’s elevation is 1,790 meters (5,870 feet), 400 meters below the Jawahar tunnel, making it less prone to avalanches, according to officials.