Every year a part of India is cut-off from the outside world for six months. In the half-year during which Ladakh remains connected through road with rest of the country, almost every product and basic commodities of life are stored to sustain life. Even when the region is accessible by weekly flights throughout the year, the turbulent weather and rough terrain doesn’t make it easy.  

While all 400-plus kilometre-long road from Srinagar to Leh is not all unfriendly, a 9-km tough and deadly stretch of road called Zojila pass, situated at an altitude of 11,578 feet on Srinagar-Kargil-Leh National Highway, decides whether Ladakh will remain connected to valley or not. Landslides are common on this stretch of road and hundreds have lost their lives crossing the pass. 

b’Private vehicles passing through snow bound Zojila Pass, situated at a height of 11,516 feet, on their way to frontier region of Ladakh on Wednesday, May 13, 2015. The Srinagar-Leh highway, the only road linking Kashmir with Ladakh, was reopened for traffic after remaining closed for over 5 months | Source: PTI/File Photo’

From December to April, the pass remains closed for any vehicular traffic due to heavy snowfall and avalanches. 

But that’s going to change now. Here’s why

  • Mumbai-based IRB Infrastructure will build Southeast Asia’s longest tunnel at Zojila pass in Jammu & Kashmir at an estimated cost of Rs 10,050 crore to provide all weather connectivity to the Leh-Ladakh region.
  • The  company said IRB Infrastructure Developers Ltd, one of the largest BOT road developers in India, has received a Letter of Award from Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MORT&H) for the construction, operation and maintenance of the longest tunnel in Southeast Asia, Zojila Pass Tunnel, in Jammu and Kashmir. 
  • It is the biggest national highway project awarded in India in terms of project cost with a tunnel length spanning 14.08 km and costing of Rs 10,050 crore.
b’Source: AFP/File Photo’
  • It will include approaches on NH-1 (Srinagar-Sonmarg-Gumri Road) in Jammu and Kashmir on design, build, finance, operate and transfer (annuity) basis, the statement said.
  • The project has a strategic and socio-economic importance as it will provide much needed all weather connectivity between Jammu & Kashmir and Leh-Ladakh. 
  • The order also involves construction of tunnel spanning length of 14.08 km and approach road of 10.8 km with three vertical ventilation shafts, snow gallery of 700 meters and avalanche protection measures.
  • According to officials, the concession period for the project is 22 years. IRB Infra will receive semi-annual annuity of Rs 981 crore from commencing after completion of construction of the project which would be received twice in a year till the end of the concession period.
b’Vehicles navigate the re-opened Zojila Pass, 108 kilometers (68 miles) north of Srinagar, on April 17, 2010 | Source: AFP/File Photo’

By bagging this contract, IRB expands its base to the ninth state in the country and the company order book size swells to Rs 16,430 crore.

  • The tunnel project is part of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Rs 80,000-crore development package for Jammu and Kashmir, which he had announced in November.
  • Last year, Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari had told PTI: “We are committed to all-round development of Jammu and Kashmir. We will begin work soon on Rs 10,000-crore Zojila pass tunnel, which would be even bigger than the 9-km long Chenani-Nashri tunnel in the state, which is India’s longest road tunnel at present.” 

(With inputs from PTI)

Feature image source: Reuters