Baltal (Sonamarg): Amid the tough terrain and harsh winter conditions, the work on the much-awaited Zojila Tunnel is progressing at a good pace on both east and west portals at Menamarg and Baltal side.
Official sources told Greater Kashmir that about 25 per cent of the excavation work has been completed so far on the Zojila Tunnel with the employees, workers braving all the weather vagaries and tough terrain to accomplish the goal of completing the tunnel well before the given time period.
Project Manager MEIL Harpal Singh said that they have achieved two milestones in recent past on Nilgrath 1 and Nilgrath 2 tunnels those will be the first step towards the accomplishment of main Zojila Tunnel.
Burhan Andrabi, an engineer with the MEIL told Greater Kashmir that the Zojila Tunnel project gathered a good pace since the beginning of this year, adding that despite the harsh weather conditions and challenging terrain the efforts are on to accomplish the task well before the time.
He said that out of approximately 18 kilometers Zojila main tunnel, Nilgrar 1 and Nilgrar 2 tunnel 4.5 kms excavation has been completed , adding that for Zojila tunnel out of 13.15 kms almost 1.3 kms excavation has also been completed.
" We are working under freezing temperatures, it usually goes to minus 15 to minus 20 , however everyone associated with the project are braving all challenges to make sure the tunnel is completed well before the set deadline " Burhan said.
Engineers battled inclement weather and tough terrain to complete the boring work on the twin-tube tunnel at Nilgrar-I, which is located on the approach road to the west portal of the Zoji La Tunnel.
“Daylight streamed into the 448-meter-long Tube 1 of Nilgrar-I on November 4, while the 472-meter-long Tube 2 saw daylight on November 22,” said the official for Megha Engineering and Infrastructure Limited, which is executing the project.
Once fully completed, the all-weather tunnel project will connect Srinagar to Ladakh -- which faces connectivity issues especially during winters -- cutting travel time between the two places by up to five hours.
The Zojila main tunnel is going to be Asia’s longest bidirectional tunnel and will provide all-weather connectivity from Kashmir valley to Ladakh. Presently, the road from Srinagar to Leh is open for only five months in a year owing to extreme snowfall during winters. The existing Srinagar-Ladakh highway is closed from mid-November to April, literally cutting off this entire region from the rest of the world. Thus, the significance of this project is crucial.
Once the project is completed, the distance will be reduced (from Baltal to Minamarg) from 40 km to 13 km, and travel time between the two Union territories will also be reduced by 1.5 hours.
On September 28, Union Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari reviewed the progress of the Zojila tunnel project and lauded Megha Engineering and Infrastructure Limited (MEIL). Gadkari inspected the under-construction Zojila tunnel and expressed his satisfaction with the construction speed.
Located at an altitude of 11,578 feet above sea level and the harsh weather conditions in the Himalayas make it a challenging project. On completion, the engineering marvel will be the first of its kind in such a geographical zone.
According to official sources, the Zojila project involves the construction of a 14.15-km-long tunnel at an altitude of about 3,000 meters under Zojila pass (currently motorable only for six months in a year) on NH-1 connecting Srinagar and Leh through Dras and Kargil.
It is one of the most dangerous stretches in the world to drive a vehicle and this project is also geo-strategically sensitive.
The tunnel will provide all-weather connectivity between Srinagar Valley and Leh (Ladakh plateau) on NH-1, and will bring about an all-round economic and socio-cultural integration of Jammu & Kashmir (Now UTs of J&K and Ladakh), the official statement had said.
Hyderabad-based MEIL is among the major infrastructure companies in India, having a presence in about 10 countries.