Union Minister Nitin Gadkari on Thursday launched the first blasting for construction related work at the 14.15 km Zojila tunnel, one of the longest in Asia, that will provide all-year connectivity between Srinagar valley and Leh. Blasting means blowing up or breaking apart something solid with explosives.
The project holds strategic significance as Zojila Pass is situated at an altitude of 11,578 feet on the Srinagar-Kargil-Leh National Highway and remains closed during winters due to heavy snowfall. 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 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.
Savings of ₹4,000 crore
Initiating the blast in a virtual ceremony, Road Transport, Highways and MSMEs Minister Gadkari termed it a “moment of pride” for India.
He said the re-modelling of the project will result in savings to the tune of ₹4,000 crore to the public exchequer without any compromise on safety, security and quality.
14.15-km long tunnel
It involves construction of a 14.15-km long tunnel at an altitude of about 3,000 m under Zojila pass (presently motorable only for six months in a year) on NH-1 connecting Srinagar and Leh through Drass and Kargil.
“This tunnel when completed will be a landmark achievement in the history of modern India. It will also be of great importance to the Defence of the country, in view of the fact that massive military activities along our borders in Ladakh, Gilgit and Baltistan regions are taking place,” the government said.
Three hours to just 15 minutes
Zojila Tunnel project shall bring to fruition, 30 years of overwhelming public demand of Kargil, Drass and Ladakh region, the statement said and added that the project will make the travel on Srinagar-Kargil-Leh Section of NH-1 free from avalanches, would enhance safety and would reduce the travel time from more than 3 hours to 15 minutes.
The project was re-awarded this year to Megha Engineering & Infrastructure Ltd (MEIL) which had emerged as the lowest bidder quoting ₹4,509.5 crore for the project. The other two bidders in the race were Larsen & Toubro and Ircon International JV.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi in May 2018, had laid the foundation stone for the ₹6,800 crore project, billed as Asia’s longest bi-directional tunnel, in Jammu and Kashmir.
Unveiling a plaque for commencement of work for the tunnel, Modi had said, “Zojila tunnel is not a mere tunnel but a modern-day marvel.”