New Delhi (Sputnik)- Taking a big stride in the direction of breaking the isolation of the communities residing along the border with China with the rest of India, the government has approved the construction of a road tunnel at Zojila — a high mountain pass at Jammu and Kashmir. The tunnel, to be constructed at an estimated cost of $ 951 million, would be Asia's longest bi-directional road tunnel.
"Zojila tunnel will be the longest bi-directional tunnel in Asia. Its construction period will be seven years because of the very difficult terrain where in some areas temperature dips to minus 45 degree Celsius. The tunnel shall be an engineering marvel and a first of its kind in such a geographical area," Nitin Gadkari, India's Road Transport and Highways Minister said after a meeting of the Cabinet.
Zojila tunnel project will improve Srinagr's all weather connectivity to Leh pic.twitter.com/bjnfmlAXLx— Nitin Gadkari (@nitin_gadkari) January 3, 2018
The tunnel will reduce the travel time between Srinagar and Leh to 15 minutes from the current 3.5 hours journey, which is possible only for at best 6 months of the year because of snow on the passes and the threat of avalanches. "This project along with other ongoing projects like the 6.5 km long Z-Morh tunnel at Gagangir would ensure safe, fast and cheap connectivity between the two regions of Kashmir and Ladakh," Gadkari added.
"It has a great strategic importance in the backdrop of massive strategic activities conducted by China and Pakistan along our borders in Ladakh, Gilgit and Baltistan regions. Due to poor infrastructure in these areas, Pakistani troops had intruded the hills of Drass and Batalik sectors during the winter of 1999," a senior government official told Sputnik on condition of anonymity.
Zojila pass is situated at an altitude of 11,578 feet on the Srinagar-Kargil-Leh National Highway, which remains closed during winters (December to April) due to heavy snowfall and avalanches cutting off the Leh-Ladakh region from Kashmir.