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India's Zojila Tunnel And Why it is Being Built at Breakneck Speed

The deadline for the completion of the tunnel has been pushed up by three years by the central government.

Updated
Explainers
5 min read
<div class="paragraphs"><p>Touted to be Asia's longest bidirectional tunnel, the Zojila tunnel is being constructed at breakneck speed in the strategically sensitive terrain of Jammu and Kashmir.</p></div>
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Touted to be Asia's longest bidirectional tunnel, the 'all-weather connectivity' Zojila tunnel is being constructed at a breakneck speed in the geo-strategically sensitive terrain of Jammu and Kashmir.

"I am satisfied with the speed of the construction," Union Minister Nitin Gadkari was quoted as saying by news agency PTI on Tuesday, 28 September, after he inspected the tunnel.

The deadline for the fulfilment of the project, which had earlier been set for 2026, has been moved up by nearly three years to 2023. Upon completion, the Zojila tunnel will be India’s longest road tunnel as well as the world's highest tunnel, according to the government.

What is the Zojila tunnel? Where is it located? Why is it being constructed? And what's the hurry to finish it? Here's all you need to know.

India's Zojila Tunnel And Why it is Being Built at Breakneck Speed

  1. 1. What Is the Zojila Tunnel?

    The Zojila tunnel, under construction in Jammu and Kashmir, is a 14.15 km long tunnel located at an altitude of about 3,000 m. The tunnel is situated under the Zojila Pass on NH-1.

    The tunnel will connect Srinagar and Leh through Dras and Kargil. The passage will begin at Sonmarg in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, and terminate at Minamarg, in the Union Territory of Ladakh.

    The roadway is being constructed at one of the most dangerous motorable stretches in the world, at a location of great geo-strategical sensitivity.

    <div class="paragraphs"><p>The Zojila tunnel is marked in yellow.</p></div>

    The Zojila tunnel is marked in yellow.

    (Photo Courtesy:  PIB/Ministry of Road Transport and Highways)

    Expand
  2. 2. The Road to Constructing the Zojila Tunnel 

    The Zojila tunnel project, which charts the construction of the tunnel to enhance strategic connectivity within Jammu and Kashmir, was first conceived by the Indian government as early as 2005. A Detailed Project Report (DPR) for it was prepared by Border Roads Organisation (BRO) in 2013.

    While the project had been ideated upon years ago, various obstacles in its implementation had hindered a swift progress, stalling its construction until 2020.

    Attempts to award the project to a contractor had failed four times, before it was given to government agency National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL) in July 2016 for implementation in the EPC (engineering, procurement, construction) mode.

    In EPC projects, the government acquires and remunerates a developer for the construction of the highway, while the toll revenues accrue to the government.

    The work of the project was awarded by the NHIDCL to the private company Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services Limited (IL&FS).

    The foundation stone for the project was laid by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in May 2018. However, soon after, IL&FS sank into financial difficulties, delaying the work on the project. The tunnel contract with the IL&FS was consequently terminated in January 2019.

    Minister of Road Transport Nitin Gadkari subsequently sent the project for a review by an expert group. The report on the modalities of project configuration and implementation, submitted by the expert committee led by Director General (DG) of Road Development IK Pandey, was approved in May 2020.

    Once the report was approved, the project picked up pace again, and rapidly so.

    Bids for the project were invited in June 2020, following which the project was awarded to Megha Engineering and Infrastructure Limited (MEIL) in August 2020.

    Work on the Zojila tunnel was inaugurated again on 15 October 2020, with a ceremonial blasting led by Gadkari.

    The project has been carried out in "full swing" since then, as iterated by the government.

    The total capital cost of the project, as per government estimates, is Rs 6808.63 crore.

    Expand
  3. 3. What Are the Benefits of the Zojila Tunnel?

    The tunnel, which is touted to provide all-weather connectivity between Srinagar valley and Leh (Ladakh) plateau on NH-1, will allow travellers to commute between the two terminal locations throughout the year.

    Presently, the Zojila Pass that connects Srinagar to Leh is motorable only for six months per year. The road, located in the mountainous terrain, becomes inaccessible when snow sets in during the colder months. This poses a hurdle for the movement of military and other vehicles. Alternative routes between Srinagar and Leh are long, hazardous in winters, and located close to India's borders with Pakistan and China.

    "The construction of Zozila Tunnel shall bring about all round economic and socio-cultural integration of these regions which remains cut-off from rest of the country during winters due to heavy snowfall for about six months," the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) said in a press release.

    Other benefits of the tunnel include:

    • The tunnel will drastically reduce the travel time for passengers currently commuting by the Zojila Pass. The travel time on Zojila Pass is about three hours, but the journey through the tunnel can be completed within just 15 minutes.

    • The Zojila tunnel will reduce the distance between the two Union territories from 40 km to 13 km and the total travel time by 1.5 hours.

    • The tunnel, which is covered from the top, will provide a passage safe from avalanches in the winter months.

    • It will ensure safer travel for defence and military vehicles, which are active in the border territory.

    • The project is expected to generate employment opportunities for locals.

    • Better transportation networks will boost the tourism sector in the region.

    Expand
  4. 4. What Are the Features of the Zojila Tunnel?

    Here are some of the features of the Zojila tunnel, as delineated by MoRTH:

    • It is a two-lane, bi-directional, single tube tunnel without parallel egress/escape passage

    • The tunnel is being designed to permit a speed of 80 km/hour.

    • An approach road will be added to the head of the tunnel, connecting it with the end of the Z-Morh tunnel, which leads to Kargil.

    • The approach road will have avalanche protection structures such as catch dams, snow galleries, deflector dams, and so on.

    • Safety features of the tunnel include sidewalks, emergency phone niches, hydrants, fire alarms, a lighting system, and a video surveillance system, among others.

    • The tunnel will have a traffic control system with a central control room.

    Expand
  5. 5. Why Is It Being Constructed So Fast?

    While the construction of the Zojila tunnel gained momentum as recently as October 2020, it is now being undertaken at a rapid pace, as per the MoRTH's indications. The project is now expected to be completed by the end of 2023, three years ahead of schedule.

    Union Minister Gadkari indicated that the tunnel is expected to be inaugurated by Prime Minister Modi before the Republic Day (26 January) in 2024.

    "I have given them a new deadline – December 2023. I told them that it should be completed before the 2024 elections. Sab kaam 2024 se pehle khatam ho jana chahiye warna humara band bajega (All the work should be completed before 2024 elections, otherwise we will be in trouble),” he was quoted as saying by PTI on Tuesday.

    “We will like to flaunt the project during the elections to play our band,” Gadkari was quoted as saying by The Tribune, as he inspected the project in Jammu and Kashmir on Tuesday.

    When questioned by reporters on whether speeding up of the tunnel construction was an advisable decision in view of the fragile nature of the terrain's ecology, Gadkari asserted that the safety of the tunnel would not be compromised.

    Officials from MEIL, the developer of the tunnel, however, told the media that the construction of the tunnel posed a challenging task especially in the harsh winter season, which brings with it weather hazards such as avalanches and ice storms, The News Minute reported.

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

What Is the Zojila Tunnel?

The Zojila tunnel, under construction in Jammu and Kashmir, is a 14.15 km long tunnel located at an altitude of about 3,000 m. The tunnel is situated under the Zojila Pass on NH-1.

The tunnel will connect Srinagar and Leh through Dras and Kargil. The passage will begin at Sonmarg in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, and terminate at Minamarg, in the Union Territory of Ladakh.

The roadway is being constructed at one of the most dangerous motorable stretches in the world, at a location of great geo-strategical sensitivity.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>The Zojila tunnel is marked in yellow.</p></div>

The Zojila tunnel is marked in yellow.

(Photo Courtesy:  PIB/Ministry of Road Transport and Highways)

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The Road to Constructing the Zojila Tunnel 

The Zojila tunnel project, which charts the construction of the tunnel to enhance strategic connectivity within Jammu and Kashmir, was first conceived by the Indian government as early as 2005. A Detailed Project Report (DPR) for it was prepared by Border Roads Organisation (BRO) in 2013.

While the project had been ideated upon years ago, various obstacles in its implementation had hindered a swift progress, stalling its construction until 2020.

Attempts to award the project to a contractor had failed four times, before it was given to government agency National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL) in July 2016 for implementation in the EPC (engineering, procurement, construction) mode.

In EPC projects, the government acquires and remunerates a developer for the construction of the highway, while the toll revenues accrue to the government.

The work of the project was awarded by the NHIDCL to the private company Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services Limited (IL&FS).

The foundation stone for the project was laid by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in May 2018. However, soon after, IL&FS sank into financial difficulties, delaying the work on the project. The tunnel contract with the IL&FS was consequently terminated in January 2019.

Minister of Road Transport Nitin Gadkari subsequently sent the project for a review by an expert group. The report on the modalities of project configuration and implementation, submitted by the expert committee led by Director General (DG) of Road Development IK Pandey, was approved in May 2020.

Once the report was approved, the project picked up pace again, and rapidly so.

Bids for the project were invited in June 2020, following which the project was awarded to Megha Engineering and Infrastructure Limited (MEIL) in August 2020.

Work on the Zojila tunnel was inaugurated again on 15 October 2020, with a ceremonial blasting led by Gadkari.

The project has been carried out in "full swing" since then, as iterated by the government.

The total capital cost of the project, as per government estimates, is Rs 6808.63 crore.

What Are the Benefits of the Zojila Tunnel?

The tunnel, which is touted to provide all-weather connectivity between Srinagar valley and Leh (Ladakh) plateau on NH-1, will allow travellers to commute between the two terminal locations throughout the year.

Presently, the Zojila Pass that connects Srinagar to Leh is motorable only for six months per year. The road, located in the mountainous terrain, becomes inaccessible when snow sets in during the colder months. This poses a hurdle for the movement of military and other vehicles. Alternative routes between Srinagar and Leh are long, hazardous in winters, and located close to India's borders with Pakistan and China.

"The construction of Zozila Tunnel shall bring about all round economic and socio-cultural integration of these regions which remains cut-off from rest of the country during winters due to heavy snowfall for about six months," the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) said in a press release.

Other benefits of the tunnel include:

  • The tunnel will drastically reduce the travel time for passengers currently commuting by the Zojila Pass. The travel time on Zojila Pass is about three hours, but the journey through the tunnel can be completed within just 15 minutes.

  • The Zojila tunnel will reduce the distance between the two Union territories from 40 km to 13 km and the total travel time by 1.5 hours.

  • The tunnel, which is covered from the top, will provide a passage safe from avalanches in the winter months.

  • It will ensure safer travel for defence and military vehicles, which are active in the border territory.

  • The project is expected to generate employment opportunities for locals.

  • Better transportation networks will boost the tourism sector in the region.

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What Are the Features of the Zojila Tunnel?

Here are some of the features of the Zojila tunnel, as delineated by MoRTH:

  • It is a two-lane, bi-directional, single tube tunnel without parallel egress/escape passage

  • The tunnel is being designed to permit a speed of 80 km/hour.

  • An approach road will be added to the head of the tunnel, connecting it with the end of the Z-Morh tunnel, which leads to Kargil.

  • The approach road will have avalanche protection structures such as catch dams, snow galleries, deflector dams, and so on.

  • Safety features of the tunnel include sidewalks, emergency phone niches, hydrants, fire alarms, a lighting system, and a video surveillance system, among others.

  • The tunnel will have a traffic control system with a central control room.

Why Is It Being Constructed So Fast?

While the construction of the Zojila tunnel gained momentum as recently as October 2020, it is now being undertaken at a rapid pace, as per the MoRTH's indications. The project is now expected to be completed by the end of 2023, three years ahead of schedule.

Union Minister Gadkari indicated that the tunnel is expected to be inaugurated by Prime Minister Modi before the Republic Day (26 January) in 2024.

"I have given them a new deadline – December 2023. I told them that it should be completed before the 2024 elections. Sab kaam 2024 se pehle khatam ho jana chahiye warna humara band bajega (All the work should be completed before 2024 elections, otherwise we will be in trouble),” he was quoted as saying by PTI on Tuesday.

“We will like to flaunt the project during the elections to play our band,” Gadkari was quoted as saying by The Tribune, as he inspected the project in Jammu and Kashmir on Tuesday.

When questioned by reporters on whether speeding up of the tunnel construction was an advisable decision in view of the fragile nature of the terrain's ecology, Gadkari asserted that the safety of the tunnel would not be compromised.

Officials from MEIL, the developer of the tunnel, however, told the media that the construction of the tunnel posed a challenging task especially in the harsh winter season, which brings with it weather hazards such as avalanches and ice storms, The News Minute reported.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Published: 
Edited By :Padmashree Pande
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