In a move aimed at increasing regional connectivity, and providing an easy all-weather access to the public and strategic locations in the regions of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh, the Union Minister for Road Transport & Highways, Nitin Gadkari, on 15th October 2020, pressed the button for ceremonial first blasting of Zoji La Tunnel.
The Zoji La pass is stretched across the mountains at an altitude of 3500m above the sea level in the regions of Ladakh. It is a crucial part of National Highway 1 (NH-1) or Srinagar-Leh Highway, and connects the Kashmir valley with Ladakh, passing through Drass and Kargil.
During the winters, the strategically significant region of Ladakh loses its connectivity with Srinagar as heavy snow makes the Zoji La an impasse. Even in the best case scenario, these areas are traversable for no more than six months in a year.
This not only creates difficulties for general public, but also dampens maneuverability for the military which constantly needs access to these areas, especially during the times when there is a simmering situation along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China.
The demands for a solution, that would enable movement across the Zoji La pass easy and short, had been raising for past 30 years. Now, the Zoji La Tunnel Road is aimed to provide an all-weather connectivity between the geo-strategic regions.
The Zoji La tunnel road will be 14.63 km long, two-lane, and bi-directional, without a parallel Egress or escape road. This will also make it the longest tunnel in Asia. About an 18 km approach road will also be constructed to connect the tunnel with Z-Morh tunnel to enhance connectivity. The travel time will be reduced from 4 hours to just 20 minutes as the route will become traversable for the whole of year, during all the weathers.
The tunnel will get road safety and avalanche protection structures like snow covers, deflector dam, and catch dams etc.
Not only this, the tunnel road will be full of safety features like traffic control system, fire detection and suppression system, emergency telephones niches, and video surveillance system.
This tunnel road will prove to be strategically as well as socio-economically important as it will integrate the regions and bring employment to the local population.
The total cost of the project stands around Rs 7000 crores that will include pre-construction activities like land acquisition, resettlement and rehabilitation, as well as operation and maintenance of the tunnel for 4 years after its inauguration. It is expected to be completed in 6 years.
The idea of a tunnel road through Zoji La pass was first conceived in 2005 after such demands had been rising. Then it took 8 years for Border Road Organization to produce its report on the proposed project.
In 2016, after many efforts, the project was handed over to the National Highway and Infrastructure Development Corporation (NHIDCL), while the commencement ceremony was attended by the PM Narendra Modi himself.
However, only after two years, the NHIDCL had got into financial trouble, and the project was aborted.
Realising the importance of the project and need of the hour, the Government swiftly reviewed the situation and worked in order to restart the project. Finally the construction is underway.
Several other projects, some of which are also of strategic importance have been either announced or are underway, according to the Union Minister Nitin Gadkari. Some of these projects are Delhi-Katra Green Expressway (cost - 21000 crores), a 10 km long Chhatru-Anantnag tunnel (cost - 5400 crores), a 12 km long Sinthan pass tunnel (cost - 4600 crore), a 65 km long 4 lane road between Srinagar and Banihal, among others.