The bidirectional, all-weather tunnel is expected to not only keep a check on incursions, but also keep Ladakh accessible throughout the year.
New Delhi: When PM Narendra Modi lays the foundation stone for the 14.2-km Zojila tunnel on a visit to J&K today, he will set the ball rolling on a project of immense strategic significance that also opens up new avenues for eager travellers.
The tunnel, to be built on a seven-year deadline on account of the treacherous terrain, will provide all-weather connectivity between Srinagar, Kargil and Leh.
Billed as Asia’s longest, the tunnel is expected to allow the government to keep a check on incursions by Pakistan and China by facilitating quick and seamless transportation of supplies and troops to the two borders.
After the project received the union Cabinet’s approval this January, road and highways minister Nitin Gadkari had said, “Defence forces have to face a hard time ensuring supplies to border posts during winters. This pass is most strategic for the entire Kargil sector which has seen intrusion and war in the past.”
The need for such a tunnel was first felt during the 1999 Kargil war, with the recent incursions by China making it an urgent necessity.
The bidirectional tunnel is also expected to benefit trade, as well as health, education and tourism, all because of the easier connectivity and shorter travel time. Where crossing the Zojila currently takes 3.5 hours, the tunnel is expected to cut the time to 15 minutes flat.
Zojila (la stands for pass) is located at a height of 3,528 metres, spanning the western section of the Himalayas, and falls on National Highway-1. It remains closed for roughly half of the year, from November to March, due to snowfall and avalanches, thus cutting off Ladakh’s connectivity to the rest of the country.
It has been eulogised in several movies through stunning visuals of it snaking through a virgin white landscape, but regulars complain about the perilous journey it offers.
“It is a very scary road to cross. On some stretches, only one vehicle can pass at a time. The tunnel will bring a lot of relief. More tourists will prefer to take the road journey,” Salman Gulzar, a driver, told ThePrint.
The tunnel, which will reportedly be equipped with a high-tech communication system, will be built at a cost of Rs 6,809 crore, under the road ministry’s National and Infrastructural Development Corporation Limited.