ZOJILA (J&K): Union Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari along with a 13-member Parliamentary committee on Monday reviewed the construction work of the strategic Zojila tunnel, which will provide all-weather connectivity between Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.
While terming the tunnel historic, the minister said that the project is part of a dream to connect the Kashmir valley with Kanyakumari.
The Union minister also announced that the Z-Morh tunnel, which connects Gagangir with Sonamarg and provides all-weather connectivity to the resort in the Ganderbal district of central Kashmir, will be inaugurated in October this year.
“This is a historic and important tunnel in the history of India. The tunnel length is supposed to be the highest in Asia,” Gadkari told reporters after inspecting the work on the site at an altitude of over 11,500 feet.
The Union minister led a 13-member delegation of the Parliamentary consultative committee on the ministry.
The tunnel project through the mighty Zojila Pass at an altitude of 11,578 feet on the Srinagar-Kargil-Leh National highway is of strategic importance as the highway remains closed during winters due to heavy snowfall, cutting off the Ladakh region from Kashmir.
The single-tube Zojila tunnel from Baltal, in the Ganderbal district of central Kashmir, to Minimarg, in Drass town of Kargil district of Ladakh, is 13 km long with an approach road of 18 km.
Gadkari said the estimated cost of the project was Rs 12,000 crore, but, after discussions with experts and international consultants for a year, its cost was brought down by Rs 5,000 crore.
“This is the first time in the history of our country that we have a saving of Rs 5,000 crore as far as the estimated cost is concerned. This is a very difficult task, the people are working here in minus 26 degrees,” he said.
This is to be a state-of-art-project and with the cooperation of J&K LG Manoj Sinha and his administration, it will be very helpful for us, he said.
Laying out a roadmap for connecting several cities across the country, Gadkari said the Zojila tunnel is one of the important things of “our dream to connect Kashmir to Kanyakumari”. This will be connectivity between north to south, he added.
He also applauded engineers and contractors, saying it is very difficult to work here.
The union minister said about 38 per cent of the work has been completed, and a part of the project will be inaugurated this year for providing relief to the people.
“With the permission of the prime minister, the LG, we want to try to inaugurate a part of the project because that will give relief to the people,” he said.
According to Harpal Singh, Project Head of Megha Engineering and Infrastructure Ltd, which is constructing the project, the total length of the project from Sonamarg to Minimarg is 31 km. From Sonamarg to Baltal, it is 18 km, and then the main tunnel from Baltal to Minimarg is 13 km long. The work is going on at a rapid pace on both projects.
Gadkari said the project once completed would develop tourism in the area.
“The tourism in Kashmir will be increased 3-4 times and tourism is a sector which creates maximum employment avenues,” he said.
“I have requested LG and JK government to plan resorts, and adventure sports, and just like Switzerland, we can develop a lot of things here, he said.
People are already coming here, Baba Amarnath road is here, so we can increase the tourism potential here, which will create more employment potential for the people of J-K. It will eradicate the poverty in Ladakh and J&K, the minister added.
He said former prime minister AB Vajpayee at the time of the Kargil war, visualised that we should have a good road between Ladakh and Srinagar.
“This is under the leadership of prime minister Narendra Modi that we have started this and we are hopeful that we will get this tunnel (completed) as early as possible,” he said.
Asked about its significance in terms of defence forces on the Indo-China border, Gadkari said while he would not like to comment on the defence point of view, the project is very important because the previous war the country fought was Kargil, for which the tunnel will provide all-weather connectivity.
“So, this is the area we are going to develop and there will be no migration of the people and the most important thing is this will be the world attraction just like Switzerland and people from India and abroad will come here for tourism and it is going to increase the employment potential in this area which will be a great thing,” he added.
To a question on developing airstrips near the country’s borders, the minister said the government is working on 29 road-cum-airstrip projects, out of which nine have been completed.
“Somewhere, we need permission from the Airforce, it is in the process. At the time of emergency, we can use those,” he said.
Asked once the breakthrough of the tunnel is achieved, would the army be allowed to travel on the rough tunnel if need be, Gadkari said whatever has to be done at the time of emergency, it will be done at that time.
“In times of emergency and in the interest of the country, a result is achieved with positivity. There has not been a such need, and there is no possibility of such need, but, if there arises a need, then we will surely do what our defence forces say,” the union minister said.
Later, the minister inspected the work progress on the Z-Morh tunnel, and announced it will be inaugurated in October this year. “We will inaugurate Z-Morh tunnel in October. This will help the people a great deal and also help increase tourism, and employment opportunities,” Gadkari said. During the event, J&K LG Manoj Sinha requested the union minister that local youth be given more employment opportunities in the project. The minister assured Sinha that the contractor has been directed to provide maximum employment opportunities to the local youth. (PTI)