Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday laid the foundation stone to kick-start the work on Asia's longest bi-directional tunnel. To be built at a cost of Rs 6,809 crore, the 14.2km long tunnel will provide the all-weather land connectivity to Ladakh region, which remains cut off from the rest of the country during winters.
The tunnel, which will come up at an altitude of 3,528 metres high Zojila pass, is expected to bring down the travel time from 3.5 hours to 15 minutes. Once ready, the tunnel will become a lifeline for the people of Kargil and Leh. The normal life in both the towns comes to a standstill during winters as all the necessary goods and medicines are flown in via aircrafts.
Besides ensuring that land transportation is not thrown out of gear after snowfall, the tunnel will also be of strategic importance for country's defence forces, which have stock up the supplies for several months.
"Zojila project will be completed in five years, but I have asked the concerned ministry to look into ways to reduce the time for completion of this project," Modi said. "It (tunnel) will lead to all-round economic and socio-cultural integration of these regions. It also has immense strategic importance," he added.
Addressing a large congregation gathered in Leh ground for the closing ceremony for birth centenary celebrations of the 19th Kushok Bakula Rinpoche, Modi said the Zojila tunnel would help in connecting the region with the rest of the country, a dream of the Buddhist spiritual guru.
The Zojila pass is situated at an altitude of 11,578 feet on the Srinagar-Kargil-Leh National highway and remains closed during winters due to heavy snowfall, cutting off Ladakh region from Kashmir.
Modi arrived here on Saturday morning on a day-long visit to the state, his first after the Centre announced suspension of operations against terror groups during the holy month of Ramzan.
Modi paid tributes to Kushok Bakula Rinpoche at the closing ceremony and unveiled his plaque. He ws accompanied by J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, Union Road and Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari, and Jitendra Singh, the minister of state in the Prime Minister's Office.
Unveiling a plaque for commencing the work for the tunnel, Modi said, "Zojila tunnel is not a mere tunnel but a modern day marvel." He said the carbon dioxide would be removed from the tunnel through a tower, seven times higher than the Qutub Minar.
Modi said it would provide connectivity to the region besides employment to the local youths. "Jammu and Kashmir is going to get development projects worth Rs 25,000 crore. These projects will have a positive impact on the people of the state," he said.
"Today projects worth Rs 25,000 crore will either be dedicated to the nation or the foundation stone will be laid. This shows that New Delhi is completely dedicated to all-round development of state," he said.
He said the region had a great scope for agricultural growth. The state could play a key role to help further holistic healthcare, he said, adding that they could have aromatic industry and products could be marketed the world over.
The prime minister, while unveiling plaque for commencement of work for Zojila tunnel, said the project aims at construction of 14.15-kilometre-long two-lane bi-directional single-tube tunnel.
The construction of this tunnel will provide all-weather connectivity among Srinagar, Kargil and Leh and would lead to all-round economic and socio-cultural integration of these regions, he said.
Minister of Road Transport and Highways, Nitin Gadakri in his address, said 90 per cent of employment would be provided to local youths in the construction of the tunnel. He said that it would help the armed forces for round-the-clock supplies.
Welcoming the prime minister, Mufti thanked the prime minister for participating in the closing ceremony of Kushak Bakula. The chief minister said the Zojila tunnel would be instrumental in increasing tourism traffic to Ladakh region.
Mufti also requested sanctioning of an international-level indoor stadium in Leh and Kargil as the youth here were good in sports such as ice skating and ice hockey.
About the Zojila tunnel, she recalled that Gadkari had given a time of seven years for completion of the tunnel but the prime minister asked him to ensure that it be completed in next five years. "I'm confident that it will be completed during your tenure as prime minister," she said.
with PTI inputs