Zojila tunnel: Modi government working to complete Asia’s longest bi-directional tunnel without cost escalation

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Zojila tunnel status: The Zojila tunnel, meant to provide all-year connectivity between Leh and Srinagar, might undergo design changes in order to avoid cost escalation, PTI reported Union Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari as saying. He added that the Centre aims to complete building the tunnel at the original estimated cost of approximately Rs 6,800 crore. The project is strategically important because the Zojila Pass, located on the Srinagar-Kargil-Leh National Highway at an altitude of 11,578 feet (nearly 3,529 metres), is closed in the winters due to snowfall, consequently cutting Ladakh off from Kashmir.

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Talking about the design changes, Minister Gadkari said that they might do away with the escape tunnel and instead come up with alternative tunnels to go from one side to the other. He further said that although a revised estimated cost of over Rs 8,000 crore has been presented before the cabinet, the ministry is deliberating on design changes to prevent cost escalation. The design changes could also include removal of some vertical shafts without compromising on safety, he added. He further said that the rebidding for the project was likely to happen in the next month or two.

Slated to be the longest bi-directional tunnel in Asia, the Zojila tunnel's foundation stone was laid in May 2018 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Jammu and Kashmir. However, the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL), which had initially awarded the contract for the tunnel to IL&FS group's IL&FS Transportation, terminated the contract in January last year after the group abandoned the project over financial issues.

The project was earlier awarded under the hybrid annuity model. According to Gadkari, the project will now be converted to the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) mode. Before this also, the NHIDCL had cancelled the contract awarded to IRB Infrastructure.

Zojila Tunnel: Key Facts

  • The 14.15 km long Zojila Tunnel is significant as it will reduce the 3.5-hour drive to a mere 15 minutes of travel.
  • In January 2018, the government had approved the construction of a 14.2-km-long parallel escape tunnel between Baltal and Minamarg.
  • The tunnel was proposed to include a fully transverse ventilation system, CCTV monitoring, continuous power supply, traffic logging equipment, emergency lighting, variable message signs, tunnel radio system, and overheight vehicle detection.
  • Additionally, the tunnel's proposed plan included the provision of pedestrian cross passages every 250 metres, emergency telephones and fire-fighting cabinets every 125 metres and motorable cross passages and lay-bys every 750 metres.
  • The estimated time of completion of the tunnel is seven years from the commencement of the construction.
  • The government hopes that upon completion, the project would give a boost to local businesses as they would get linked to the national market and consequently, lead to an increase in employment at multiple levels.