Why Z-Morh, Zojila tunnels in J&K, hold strategic importance

Ahead of the 2024 general elections, the Modi government is giving a big push to tourism-related infrastructure projects in Jammu & Kashmir, making access to the Himalayan region easier all year round.

Jammu: Union Minister Nitin Gadkari recently reviewed the construction work of strategically important Z-Morh and Zojila tunnels on the Srinagar-Leh highway.

Speaking to reporters at the Z-Morh tunnel site, Gadkari said his ministry is also building 20 tunnels of a total length of 32 km in Jammu and Kashmir and 11 tunnels of a total length of 20 km in Ladakh.

The cost of building these 31 tunnels in Union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh will be around Rs 1.4 lakh crore, the road transport and highways minister said.

As this 6.5-km-long tunnel will be partially opened for controlled traffic around the month of November, let’s take a look at the project and why the government is boasting about its construction.


Z-Morh tunnel

The 6.5 km-long Z-Morh Tunnel between Gagangir and Sonmarg will provide connectivity in all weather conditions between Srinagar in Jammu and Kashmir and Kargil in Ladakh.

It is named for the Z-shaped stretch of road between Sonmarg and Gagangir that the tunnel will replace.

According to officials, the strategically crucial Z-Morh tunnel will ensure that Sonmarg town in Jammu and Kashmir remains connected as well as supplies are maintained all year round.

Currently, all commercial activity comes to a halt during winter, and due to avalanches, connectivity on Srinagar-Leh highway gets blocked.

The completion of the Z-Morh tunnel will also significantly reduce the travel time between Srinagar and Leh, as commuters will no longer need to stay overnight in Kargil to compete the trip—the tunnel will ensure the entire stretch of road is accessible to vehicles throughout the year.

The tunnel project, being developed at a cost of Rs 2,300 crore, is designed for the flow of 1,000 vehicles an hour at an approved maximum speed of 80 km per hour.

The Z-Morh tunnel is being developed by APCO Infratech Pvt Ltd.

Earlier, the project was allotted to Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services (IL&FS), but the contractor abandoned it after IL&FS Group faced financial crisis.

In January 2020, National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL) and APCO Infratech signed a pact on the same and work began in July 2020.

At the time, NHIDCL’s managing director KK Pathak had said that the project would be completed in three-and-a-half years.

NHIDCL authorities have said that work on the tunnel is progressing at a fast pace.

As per a PTI report, GS Kambo, executive director of the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, said: “We will complete the tunnel by early next year, well ahead of the scheduled target of December 2023. There are concrete work, etc, remaining.”

The main tube’s connectivity was achieved last week, while the escape tunnel, built as a safeguard against calamities along the main tunnel, was cleared during summer this year.

Zojila tunnel

Beyond Sonmarg, the 14.2-km Zojila tunnel, which will provide all-weather connectivity between Srinagar and Ladakh, making for a strategic asset for the Indian Army, may also be completed ahead of its scheduled target of 2026.

The Rs 4,600 crore Zojila tunnel is being executed by Megha Engineering and Infra Limited.

The Zojila tunnel between Baltal and Minamarg on the Srinagar-Leh section will provide all-year connectivity between Leh and Srinagar.

The Zojila Pass is a strategic link connecting the Leh-Ladakh region to Srinagar and the rest of India. The region, however, does not have all-weather connectivity, especially to Leh, the capital of the Union Territory of Ladakh.

This has heavily hit the transport sector, thereby impacting the entire economy of the region.

The Zojila tunnel project was envisaged in 2016, with tenders being cancelled several times. However, the project was approved by the Government of India in January 2018 and the commencement of its construction was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in May 2018.

The length of the Zojila tunnel is 14.15 km. Once completed, it will be India’s longest road tunnel and Asia’s longest bi-directional tunnel.

According to officials, once the tunnel is completed, the distance from Baltal to Minamarg will reduce from 40 km to 13 km and travel time too will be cut down by one-and-a-half-hour between the two Union Territories.


Infra boost

Ahead of the 2024 general elections, the Modi government is giving a big push to tourism-related infrastructure projects in Jammu & Kashmir, making access to the Himalayan region easier all year round.

During his Tuesday visit, Gadkari also announced a slew of projects — from building bus terminals, improving roadside amenities, developing ropeways and funicular railways.

“Within two years, we will change the scenario of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. We will provide more infrastructure facilities within two years. Availability of funds is not a problem, we need cooperation for land acquisition and other works,” he said.

“When Ladakh and Kashmir get good roads, good tunnels, it will kickstart the socio-economic progress of this area. It is going to create employment,” the Union minister’s statement read.

“We are going to create more employment potential for the local youth of Ladakh and Kashmir. We will give the highest priority for employment to local people. It is going to eradicate poverty. It would be a great socio-economic transformation,” he said.


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