Zoji La Tunnel is a 14.2 km long road tunnel under Zoji La pass in the Himalayas between Sonmarg and Drass town in Kargil district of the Indian Union Territory of Ladakh, currently under construction, with completion expected about 5–7 years after commencement of construction in 2018. The tunnel along with 6.5 km long Z-Morh Tunnel, (which is 22 km before Zoji La tunnel towards Srinagar) will ensure year-round road connectivity between Srinagar and Kargil which currently remains closed for about seven months due to heavy snowfall on the Zoji La pass which is situated at an altitude of 3,528 m (11,578 feet) on the Srinagar-Kargil-Leh highway. Zoji La is 15 km from Sonamarg and provides a vital link with Drass and Kargil in Ladakh but remains closed for 6–7 months (from November to May) during winter due to heavy snow fall & snow avalanches.
|Location||Zoji La, Ladakh, |
|Work begun||15 October 2020|
|Operator||National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL)|
|No. of lanes||Two (one in each direction)|
It takes more than 3 hours to cross the pass but the tunnel will reduce the time. This tunnel was a strategic requirement of the army and the Ladakhi people as the pass is close to the Line of Control (LOC) and vulnerable to hostile actions. Zoji La was recaptured from Pakistani raiders under Operation Bison.
The Zoji La tunnel project was approved by the Government of India in January 2018 and the commencement of its construction was inaugurated by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi in May 2018. The tunnel will be built under EPC mode (engineering, procurement, construction) wherein the Government of India will provide the money and the executing agency will do the construction and will later hand over the project to the Government of India. Earlier it was supposed to be built under PPP mode where private player was supposed to make the investment and later recover via toll but despite calling for bids five times since 2013, no bid came for one time and for the rest only a single private player showed interest; thus each time the bid was cancelled.
- Its construction period will be five years because of a very difficult terrain where in some areas the temperature drops to -45 °C.
- The project aims at construction of a 14.2 km-long two-lane bi-directional single tube tunnel with a parallel 14.2 km-long egress tunnel. The western portal is at Baltal at about 3,000 m elevation (about 400 m lower than the elevation of the existing highway there), about 15 km east of Sonmarg. The eastern portal after Zoji La is at Minamarg towards the Dras/Kargil end. The length of the tunnel does not include the lengths of the approach roads to both ends of the tunnel from the existing highway.
- Planned as a smart tunnel, it will have the latest safety features such as a fully transverse ventilation system, an uninterrupted power supply, emergency lighting, CCTV monitoring, variable message signs, traffic logging equipment and a tunnel radio system.
- The safety features will include emergency telephones and fire-fighting cabinets every 125 metres, pedestrian cross-passages every 250 metres and motorable cross-passages and lay-bys every 750 metres.
- The civil construction cost of the project is ₹ 4,900 crore. The total capital cost of the project is ₹6,800 crore. It includes the cost of land, resettlement and rehabilitation and other pre-construction activities as well as the maintenance and operation cost of the tunnel for four years.
- Defence forces have to face a hard time ensuring supplies to border posts during winters across Zoji La pass which is most strategic for the entire Kargil sector which has seen intrusion and war in the past. The tunnel will help keep the highway open for the entire year.
- Once the tunnel is completed, travel between Srinagar and Ladakh throughout the year will become possible. The travel time between Srinagar and Ladakh will be reduced from current 3 hours to 15 minutes.
- Oct 2013: Cabinet approves the road tunnel project.
- May 2017: Four private players bid for the ₹10,000 crore project namely Larsen & Toubro (L&T), IL&FS, Jaypee Infratech and Reliance Infrastructure.
- Jun 2017: Contract to be awarded to the bidders by June end and work to start in August 2017.
- Jul 2017: IL&FS Transportation Networks Ltd, the firm which developed Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee Tunnel emerged as the lowest cost bidder for the tunnel. It quoted cost of ₹4,899 crore (US$651 million), and a period of 7 years to construct tunnel.
- Jan 2018: Union Cabinet approves tunnel to be built at a cost of ₹6,809 crore (US$904 million) including land acquisition cost. Tunnel to be ready in five years.
- May 2018: Foundation stone laid by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and work starts.
- Mar 2019: The project is to be bid again as earlier developer IL&FS has gone bankrupt.
- Jun 2020: Fresh bids invited for construction of tunnel.
- Aug 2020: MEIL (Megha Engineering & Infrastructure Ltd) emerges as lowest bidder for the tender with quoted price of ₹4509 crores. MEIL will construct the tunnel.
- Oct 2020: On 15 October 2020, Minister of Highways, Nitin Gadkari initiated the first blast for the all weather Zoji-la tunnel on NH1. This marked the beginning of the construction of the tunnel. The event was attended by Union Ministers of State Jitendra Singh and V. K. Singh. The tunnel is expected to be completed by September 2026.
- Sep 2021: After an inspection by Union Minister Nitin Gadkari, he sets a deadline for the tunnel to be completed by December 2023, much ahead of its original deadline of September 2026.
- Nov 2021: Megha Engineering and Infrastructures Ltd (MEIL) completes the excavation work of tunnel 1 of the Zoji-la Tunnel.
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