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Indian Army can use Zojila tunnel from September 2024, two years ahead of deadline

Source : Tribune India

Indian Army can use Zojila tunnel in September 2024, two years ahead of deadline
Officials say the tunnel will be opened for movement of the armed forces in September 2024 in case of any emergency. (PTI file)

Authorities are on an overdrive to build a strategic Zojila tunnel in Kashmir to reduce travel time to Ladakh where China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is aggressively pushing its territorial claims along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

It could be one of the very few development projects in India to be completed ahead of its deadline which was fixed for November 2026 . Officials say the tunnel will be opened for movement of the armed forces in September 2024 in case of any emergency.

“The raw tunnel will be available for the use of defence purposes in September 2024 if the PLA created any disturbance along the border,” said Harpal Singh, project manager of Megha Engineering and Infrastructures Limited (MEIL), which is tasked with building the tunnel.

The need for the Zojila tunnel was first felt during the 1999 Kargil war and the recent incursions by China made it an urgent necessity.

The tunnel will provide logistics flexibility and operational mobility to the Indian Army as it will reduce the travel time on Zojila Pass from 3.5 hours to 15 minutes, Singh said.

During the harshest winter when temperatures went down to -30 degrees C, Singh said nearly 1,000 employees of the MEIL were working in the remote mountains to complete the work.

“Even bears would go into hibernation for four months here but our men continued the work in the harsh winter,” Singh said.

“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 Army to defend the motherland better, given the confrontation on the borders,” he said.

Zojila tunnel, which marks the end of the conifer-clad mountains of Kashmir Valley, will connect Sonamarg in Kashmir with Minamarg in cold desert Ladakh.

To be built at a cost of Rs 2,600 crore, the horseshoe-shaped Zojila tunnel will be India’s longest street burrow and the highest tunnel at 3,485 metre. 

“It is an engineering marvel. It involves great skill, not just blasting mountains,” he said, adding the tunnel will reduce the distance between Baltal to Minamarg from 40 km to 13 km.

With changing geological composition of the Himalayas, Singh says the MEIL is using drilling and blasting methods for Zojila tunnel instead of commonly used Tunnel Boring Machines.

The Zoji La project consists of 18-km tunnels and 17-km roads, three vertical shafts, and four bridges.

“Work is going on warfooting and 45 per cent of roads and tunnels have been completed so far. We are working on both ends of the Zojila main tunnel and completed 2.2 km,” Singh said. 

Presently, the Zojila Pass that connects Kashmir’s capital city Srinagar to Ladakh is motorable only for six months only as the accumulation of snow makes it inaccessible during winters.

It creates inconveniences for civilians in Ladakh who have to stockpile the ration before winter sets in.

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