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J&K: Strategic Zojila Tunnel Likely to be Ready by 2024 for Defence Use

Anees Zargar |
According to project handlers, work on the five tunnels, including the main Zojila tunnel, has been accelerated with the construction work carried out during the winter season. The route will be ready to use by September 2025, a year before the deadline.
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Sonmarg: The construction of a strategic tunnel link between the union territories of Ladakh and Kashmir is expected to be ready by September 2024 for defence use, two years ahead of the project deadline in 2026, a senior official said on Monday.

Harpal Singh, who is the in-charge of the project being executed by Megha Engineering and Infrastructures Limited (MEIL), said that the tunnel would be ready to use for defence purposes if a conflict arises with the People's Liberation Army (PLA).

"We are increasing our workforce to expedite the work further. With India's long border with two adversaries, China and Pakistan, this tunnel will help the army defend the motherland better, in case of the confrontation on the borders," Singh said.

To further speed up the work, the builders are also expecting to increase the strength of workers from 1000 to 2500 in the coming summer season. The work is being carried out at about 3,500 m above sea level in the Sonmarg area of central Kashmir's Ganderbal district, and is around 100 km from J&K's summer capital Srinagar.

People in Ladakh, who live in one of the world's most challenging Himalayan habitats, decried the lack of proper infrastructure and communication access as tensions rose along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in its eastern areas in 2020. The Zojila project is seen as a new lease of life for people in the region after the slow progress on crucial infra projects, including roads and highways, had dampened their spirit for years. The new all-weather route will connect the people from two UTs and especially help the people in Ladakh that lose connectivity during the winter season and face major inconvenience in the absence of a regular supply of food and other essential stocks.

"We executed the works in the time of peak winter, the temperatures fall into minus degree Celsius and in the conditions of blizzards and hard rocky terrain," Singh said.

According to project handlers, work on the five tunnels, including the main Zojila tunnel, has been accelerated with the construction work carried out during the winter season. The route will be ready to use by September 2025, a year before the deadline.

"We decided to work in the harsh winter months this year. We created around 13 km access road by using eight loaders, and the slope lowers in October last year and started work at the high altitude. However, blizzards, snowfall and at a totally isolated place," Singh told reporters.

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The MEIL has to construct 18 km long tunnels and 17 km long roads, three vertical shafts, four bridges, and other associated structures. Tunnel 1, called the Nilgrar Tunnel, is a 468 m long twin-tube tunnel and Nilgrar Tunnel 2 is also a 1.9 km long twin-tube tunnel. Tunnel 3, the main Zojila Tunnel, is a single tube tunnel about 13 km in length, connecting Baltal and Minamarg, near Drass. According to workers from MEIL, Zojila pass is the main connecting link for the strategic Srinagar-Leh and the rest of India. Being referred to as the Silk Route, it is considered crucial in strategy for defence and as well as for the economy of this region.

After the main tunnel in the Zojila project is complete, the 32-km distance from Sonamarg to Minamarg will be covered in less than 45 minutes. The journey on the highway, prone to landslides and shooting stones, would otherwise take about four hours amidst difficult terrain and harsh weather conditions.

"Our designers and proof consultants are from Spain. The Himalayas are young mountains, and we could not go for a blast every day. We have brought machinery from Europe and have used the New Austrian Tunnelling method in this project," Singh said.

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