With a project cost of Rupees 6000 Crore, the Zojila tunnel will be 14.15 Kilometers long and once completed, will become one of the longest tunnels in the continent of Asia. The Mega tunnel will provide all weather throughout the year connectivity between Srinagar, Dras, Kargil, and Leh regions of the Two Union Territories.
With year-out connectivity, people of the two regions will be able to link up with each other better as well as integration of their rich cultures will enable the young generation to understand and respect the historic values preserved for centuries. More importantly, despite harsh weather, due to which Kashmir valley gets cut off from Ladakh, the continuity in trade and tourism activities through the tunnel will provide a major boost in the economic development of both the territories.
Located at an altitude of 11,578 feet, the project also holds strategic significance as military movement takes place along the borders of the region, connecting India to Pakistan and China.
In an exclusive ground report by news agency Kashmir News Bureau, Liaisoning Officer of the tunnel constructing company ‘Megha Engineering and Infrastructure Ltd’ (MEIL), Burhan Andrabi, said that the project will be completed in two sections.
The first section consists of the construction of an 18.5-km road. Zojila tunnel will be in the shape of a horseshoe of 14.15 km with a two-road lane of 9.5 meters wide and 7.57 meters high.
Andrabi said, “Currently, we are working on the roads and the two tunnels. In the second phase, we’ll take up the work of the main Zojila Tunnel.”
“The work of the first phase has been ramped up and will be completed soon. Besides, there are two more tunnels, known as Halls and Neil Grar Tunnel, where the working of both the phases is taking place,” Andrabi said.
The tunneling process from the eastern side ‘Neil Grar’ has reached around 200 meters, including several portals. There is much progress in the construction of roads falling under the Two Phases, including the three bridges that are to be established in this Mega Project.
Andrabi told News Agency that more than 1000 workers are put to work currently at Zojila tunnel.
“Among the thousand, I can say that around 700-800 workers belong to nearby districts. It has obviously allowed the locals to earn well without traveling a lot of distance,” he said, adding, “Out of these, 400 workers are from this district only.”
Last year in August, Megha Engineering and Infrastructure Ltd (MEIL) emerged as the lowest bidder for constructing the Zojila Pass tunnel. On 15th of October 2020, Union Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari virtually initiated the first blasting for the tunnel project.
Defending the company against the recent allegation regarding the illegal extraction of sand and boulders from the Nallah Sindh in Sonmarg area of Ganderbal district, Burhan Andrabi said that the company has taken up such a big project, worth Crores, and is accused of stealing minerals worth some rupees, just does not make sense.
He said, “It is because of a person being partially or misinformed about the matters, these incidents take place. We had all the necessary permissions and had already paid the royalty.”
Our priority is to pay the royalty of any mineral we extract and use from the resources available here. We pay it to the government and as we are all aware, it helps in enhancing the GDP, Andrabi added.
Constructing a tunnel at such a high altitude is a tough job and apart from several other difficulties, the safety of the workers has to be kept a top priority.
“At every working site there are two safety officers and two safety stewards deployed to ensure care to every worker as well as check their safety gears,” Burhan Andrabi said, adding that an ambulance is always available apart from the necessary First aid.
“In case of any tragic accident, the doctors and other health care staff will be the first ones to respond and then if required, an ambulance will shift them to the nearby hospital,” he added.
After years of obstacles and being re-awarded for the third time, the Zojila Tunnel project is expected to be complete within 6 years. The people across the country as well as the valley will easily be able to have a thrilling experience of life within the Land of High Passes. (KNB)