Finally, light at the end of Zojila tunnel

Representational pic

In a significant development, government of India has set in motion the process for construction of Zojila tunnel on strategic Srinagar-Leh highway.

The Union government is all set to award the work to Megha Engineering and Infrastructure Limited (MEIL), after seven years of wait and five failed bids, a source said, adding the MEIL has emerged as the lowest bidder. The source said National Highways and Industrial Development Corporation (NHIDCL), a government body entrusted with executing infrastructure projects in hilly areas, had invited fresh bids for the tunnel in July this year. It opened the financial bids on Friday.

An official of NHIDCL said the MEIL was likely to be awarded the contract in coming days. “There are still some formalities to be completed after the financial bids were opened. The final decision to award the contract is likely to be taken in coming days,” the official said.

He said the company was among three bidders in the race, including Larsen & Toubro and Ircon International JV. Megha. The proposed 33-km Zojila tunnel is to be constructed in two sections. While an 18.5 km road will be constructed from Z-Morh tunnel to Zojila tunnel in the first section, the second section will see the construction of a 14.15 km two-way, horseshoe-shaped tunnel that is 9.5 metres wide and 7.57 metres high across Zojila pass, on the Sonamarg-Kargil stretch of the highway. The executing agency will have to complete the EPC project, which involves construction of a single-tube tunnel with bi-directional traffic in the most critical weather conditions and difficult terrain, in just 72 months, the official said.

The Zojila pass is situated at an altitude of 11,578 feet on Srinagar-Leh highway that remains closed for nearly six months due to heavy snowfall, cutting Ladakh off from rest of the country.

The project, first conceptualized in 2013, has strategic importance because of its proximity to both Pakistan and China. It aims to provide all-weather connectivity to Leh. The tunnel is expected to be a strategic boon for the armed forces as it will provide seamless connectivity between India’s borders with Pakistan and China, while also allowing tourists a wider window to explore J&K and Ladakh.

Zojila first got Cabinet approval in 2013 and has been tendered out five times. While one time there was no bidder, the other times only one bid company has participated in the bid.

The last time it was tendered was in May 2017. The contract was awarded to IL&FS Transportation Networks Ltd in August 2017 at a price of Rs 4,899 crore and a period of seven years was set to construct the tunnel. In January 2018, IL&FS received the letter of acceptance (LOA)) from NHIDCL. In March 2019, however, the project was scrapped as the developer IL&FS went bankrupt.

A senior official said that the work on this prestigious project was likely to commence soon.