Union minister for road transport, highways and MSMEs Nitin Gadkari will on Thursday initiate the first blasting of Zojila Tunnel in Jammu and Kashmir, which will ensure all-weather connectivity between the Srinagar valley and Leh.
The 14.15-km tunnel will connect the Valley and Leh on NH-1 with approach road to Z-morh tunnel and avalanche protection structures.
The Zojila Tunnel, which will be built at an altitude of about 3000 metre under Zojila pass on NH-1 connecting Srinagar and Leh through Dras and Kargil, will bring about an all-round economic and socio–cultural integration of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, the road transport ministry said in a statement. There is also an approach road of 18 kilometre from end of Z-Morh tunnel to the start of Zojila tunnel with avalanche protection structures such as catch dams, snow galleries, cut and cover, deflector dam, etc to make it an all-weather connection between two tunnels.
At present it is one of the most dangerous stretches in the world to drive a vehicle and this project is also geo-strategically sensitive. The stretch remains closed during winters due to heavy snowfall.
The project was first conceived in 2005 but could not be taken ahead. In May 2018, Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone at Leh but work could not be progressed after July 2019 as IL&FS, the firm that was given the contract, ran into financial problems. The project was terminated on January 15, 2019.
Gadkari then reviewed the languishing project in February 2020 and referred it to an expert group to reduce the cost and to execute it on priority. After due consultation with tunnel experts and other stakeholders, the expert group submitted its report on May 17, 2020, which was approved by the minister, the statement added.
“The construction cost of Zojila tunnel was earlier worked out at Rs 6,575.85 crore and after considering the escalation @ 5 per cent per annum and the total capital cost of the project as Rs 8,308 crore by NHIDCL. Thus, the total integrated cost of the project including Zojila tunnel and approaches up to Z-Morh tunnel works out to Rs 10,643 crores,” the statement said.
Compared to the present cost of the integrated project, based on the tender received at Rs 4,509.5 crore, the total capital cost of the project would be Rs 6,808.63 crore, it added.
“Thus, after re-modelling of the project and reaping the benefit of integrated project management by segregating the egress tunnel & utilising the excavated rock material in construction of approaches, generated from tunnel boring, resulted in an anticipated saving of Rs 3,835 crore,” according to the statement.
The tunnel project shall bring to fruition 30 years of overwhelming public demand of Kargil, Drass and Ladakh region and will make the travel on Srinagar-Kargil-Leh Section of NH-1 free from avalanches. Project would enhance the safety of the travellers crossing Zojila Pass and would reduce the travel time from more than 3 hours to 15 minutes, it added.
The project will also generate employment for the locals.