This midwinter in January, a friend of mine from Kargil had to visit Srinagar due to some urgency. As the Srinagar-Leh National highway was snow laden and closed for the six months of winter and due to the high price of commercial flight tickets from Leh to Srinagar, he decided to take the AN-32 (locally known as Dakota) courier service from Kargil to Srinagar. Only later he realised that he had chosen the wrong path. It is a norm that the AN-32 courier service gets cancelled and rescheduled every time. My friend managed to reach Srinagar by the AN-32 service after he touched the milestone of six cancellations and reschedules that took him ten days to cover a journey of 200kms. I went to the Srinagar airport to receive him. After greetings and wishes, the first line out of his mouth ,as I expected, was, “Syed , we need that tunnel”. And I answered with a smile, “There will be a Zoji-La tunnel, one day.” He started laughing and I joined him. Those were pity laughs. Because everybody in Kargil was having that kind of Zoji-la tunnel conversations now and then, and everyone has got used to that kind of sarcastic phrases. But jokes apart, how badly we need the Zoji-la Tunnel on the Srinagar-Leh National highway.
My first and the most important argument in favour of Zoji-la tunnel is this. We need it because I don’t want any of my friends face that kind of hardship while traveling out of Kargil during winter. On a serious note, this tunnel will play an important role on humanitarian front. You know people in Kargil (Ladakh) collect reserve of every items for the sake of six months of winter. And after the midwinter and during the last weeks of winter, people in Kargil face shortages of every items like food items, candles, woods for fire, medicines, kerosene etc. The high price of rotten and low quality fruits and vegetables is a problem during the whole winter season. Hospitals and medical stores are either short or run out of medicines. People in Kargil crave for the basic day to day needs like meat, egg, fruits. Health is effected. When patients are referred to higher hospitals like SKIMSS or SMHS outside the district, it creates a huge burden of airfare on the pockets of already deprived and disqualified people of the region.
Every government at centre, especially the current one, tries to be the champion of National Security. Irony is , they are doing very little for the security of the region where several wars were fought during 1971 and 1999. If Pakistan decides to attack and capture the western part of Ladakh with its full force during the peak winter season, I don’t think our government in Delhi can do anything more than watching Pakistani ranger marching and tanks rolling on Kargil roads on YouTube channel “Ladakh Times”. I am not putting Ideas in our neighbour’s head but it is the harsh truth. The only strategic road connecting Ladakh division with the other two regions of the state remains closed during winter and it will be impossible to land the big Indian Airforce aeroplanes on the small and under construction airport in Kargil. And for your kind information Srinagar is nearer to Kargil as compared to Leh.
The construction of Zoji-La tunnel will be an economical boost for the state and especially for the region. This will create new jobs and will ensure an increase in consumption in the economy. An all weather transit route between Srinagar and Ladakh will boost the economy of the state through trade and tourism.
This tunnel will act as a magic wand for the tourism sector of state. Sonamarg and the Baltal region provide a good spot for winter games and activities and winter tourism. The Z-morh tunnel, part of the Zojila tunnel’s first phase project , will provide an all weather connectivity to these regions.
And last but not the least, the Government of India should stop playing with the sentiments of people of Ladakh. The Government should stop using the Zoji-La tunnel for their political gains. Government of India must contemplate the grave concern of the people of this region. In the meantime government should start the commercial flight service under the UDAN Scheme and terminate the inefficient AN-32 service. The time to act is now. Else Ghalib’s Lament may sound true.
“Hum ne maana ki taghaful na karoge lekin,
Khaaq ho jaayenge hum tum ko khabar hote tak”
(I know you may not neglect me,
But it may be too late by the time you act),
(The author is B.tech from NIT Srinagar)