Sonamarg: Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways, Nitin Gadkari, on Tuesday said the Zojila tunnel project, which will be Asia's longest tunnel, is a challenging task for the construction company even as he expressed satisfaction over the pace of work going on.
The Union Minister said the construction agency has been asked to complete the project by December 2023 well ahead of the scheduled time.
The Union Minister on the second day of his visit to J&K on Tuesday, visited twin tunnel projects, Z-Morh and Zojila, coming up on Srinagar-Leh highway to review the progress and pace of work.
The minister visited east portal of main Zojila tunnel near Meenamarg on Kargil side where he was briefed by the NHIDCL and Megha Engineering Infrastructure Limited (MEIL) officials about the tunnel work.
Lt Governor Ladakh R K Mathur, CEC LAHDC Kargil Feroz Ahmed Khan and Deputy Commissioner Kargil, Santosh Sukhadeve accompanied the Union Minister.
Later the minister visited west portal of Zojila tunnel near Baltal, Sonamarg and reviewed the progress of the work.
Addressing the media persons at the west portal of main Zojila tunnel project here, the Union Minister said that the Zojila tunnel is a challenging task due to its terrain and other conditions.
He said that the central government has given a new impetus to the construction of new highways, tunnels and bridges which will bring transformative changes in the lives of people and create huge employment opportunities for the locals.
“I am satisfied with the speed of the construction,” he said, adding that the contractor (MEIL) has been asked to complete the construction work by December 2023 so that on 26 January 2024, the Prime Minister can inaugurate the Zojila tunnel.
Gadkari said that projects worth Rs 1 lakh crore are currently being implemented in Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh on tunnels and road infrastructure.
“There are many projects going on or in the pipeline for J&K,” he said, adding that among the projects, six are the most important for the socio-economic development of Jammu and Kashmir.
Gadkari said that since 2014, after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took over the government, the National Highway has been stretched from 1695 km to 2664 km. “There has been an increase of 969 km in the national highway,” he said.
The Union Minister said that in next two years, the government of India will provide infrastructure facilities more than those given in the last 50 years in Jammu and Kashmir.
He said that the Zojila tunnel is of a significant importance to the development and tourism for both UTs of J&K and Ladakh as it will provide round the year connectivity to Ladakh region.
Gadkari said that extensive road networks in the Himalayan region will help boost the tourism sector in the area.
Stressing upon the state-of-the-art infrastructure in the tunnel projects, he said that appropriate safety measures have been kept in place including vertical shafts at three places and adequate security and lighting measures with CCTV, fire alarm and heat detection systems at par with international standards.
The minister also reviewed the progress of Z-Morh tunnel.
Minister of State for Civil Aviation Gen. V.K. Singh, Chief Secretary Arun Kumar, Divisional Commissioner Kashmir P K Pole, Inspector General of Police (Kashmir Zone) Vijay Kumar, Deputy commissioner Ganderbal Kritika Jyotsna, DDC chairperson Ganderbal Nuzhat Ishfaq and many other dignitaries were also present on the occasion.
Pertinent to mention that, once completed the Zojila tunnel will be India’s longest road tunnel and Asia’s longest bi-directional tunnel. Several bridges are being constructed along this route and a connecting tunnel from Z-Morh in the National Highway-1 to Zojila tunnel will be constructed in the Zojila Ghats between Sonamarg and Kargil. The entire work is divided into two divisions in the 33 km span.
Meanwhile, the Hyderabad-based Megha Engineering & Infrastructure Limited (MEIL), which is executing Zojila tunnel, a project of national importance that will strengthen both defence and economy, is keen to expedite the project execution.
The company, which has completed over 10 per cent of the works, is aiming to complete the project ahead of the 2026 target.
Zojila Pass is the strategic link connecting the Leh-Ladakh region to Srinagar in Jammu & Kashmir, and with the rest of India. The region however does not have an all-weather connectivity, especially to Leh, the capital of the Union Territory of Ladakh. This has adversely impacted the transport sector, thereby affecting the economy of the region.
Currently, the road from Srinagar to Leh, does not remain open year round, as it is not suitable for vehicular movement. Connectivity is limited to only five months in a year owing to heavy 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. This is posing a big challenge for the movement of the Army and military vehicles. To solve this, the Zojila tunnel project has been taken up and MEIL has been awarded the project in October 2020.
National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation ED Brigadier Gurjeet Singh Kambo told Greater Kashmir, “Zojila Tunnel project will make the travel on Srinagar-Kargil-Leh Section of NH-1 free from avalanches. We are aiming for earlier execution than the targeted completion of the project by 2026. Excavation works are going in full swing and dynamics and topography of the region will change with the help of this project.”