In 2018, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had referred to the all-important Zojila Tunnel project as not a mere tunnel, but as a modern-day marvel instead. Two years later, the construction work of the strategic tunnel began this Thursday as Union Minister Nitin Gadkari launched the first blasting at the to-be 14.15 km Zojila tunnel site. Blasting, for the purpose of construction-related activities, is referred to as the blowing up of something solid (hill features for instance) with explosives. Once complete, the tunnel is poised to reduce travel time from along the Srinagar-Leh Highway (NH-1) from a gruelling 3 hours, to mere 15 minutes.
The construction of a tunnel along the Srinagar-Kargil-Leh section of the highway has been a longstanding demand of the people from the region. In the absence of such a tunnel, the Zojila Pass remains closed for six months. “This tunnel when completed will be a landmark achievement in the history of modern India. It will also be of great importance to the Defence of the country, in view of the fact that massive military activities along our borders in Ladakh, Gilgit and Baltistan regions are taking place,” a government statement said.
Zojila Pass is situated at an altitude of 11,578 feet on the Srinagar-Kargil-Leh National Highway, and the project for construction of the Zojila Tunnel on the said route has been awarded to Megha Engineering & Infrastructure Ltd (MEIL), which emerged as the lowest bidder quoting ₹4,509.5 crore for the project. Currently, the said stretch of NH-1 is considered one of the most dangerous in the world to pass through, and with the construction of the tunnel, the route will be turned tremendously safer.
In a way, the said tunnel will tie the entire region together and integrate the Union Territories of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh even further. In fact, the rapid infrastructural development which PM Modi is pushing through is precisely what is making China and its client state – Pakistan jittery. With heightened world-class infrastructure development, the Modi government is ensuring that the deployment of India’s armed forces is not subject to weather conditions in the UTs of J&K and Ladakh.
Only this month, Prime Minister Modi had inaugurated the Atal Tunnel, which is a tunnel built at the highest altitude across the world, and which reduces the travel time from Manali to Keylong (therefore to Leh) significantly. In light of recent Chinese aggression, India’s infrastructure push in and around Ladakh assumes even greater significance, as it serves as a testimony to the fact that the Indian government is fast pushing for an infrastructural power symmetry with China.