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'Reduction in travel time across Zojila pass will ensure year-round def supplies'

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NEW DELHI (PTI): The move to reduce to 15 minutes the time taken to travel across the strategic Zojila pass on the national highway connecting Kashmir with Kargil and Leh, has been welcomed by a cross-section of people, including defence personnel, who feel it would ensure year-round supplies for troops.

The Union Cabinet on Wednesday cleared the construction of a bi-directional longest tunnel in Asia at an estimated cost of Rs 6,089 crore, a project which had been pending for the last two decades.

The 14.15 km tunnel will reduce the travel time on Zojila pass from an estimated 3 hours to 15 minutes besides providing an all-weather road to strategically important Kargil, the epi-centre of 1999 skirmishes between India and Pakistani troops.

Lt Gen D S Hooda, who retired as Corps commander of the Northern Command, feels that with the construction of the tunnel, troops deployed in the region can depend more on ground supplies rather than air.

"You see in winters, the area was cut off and everyone including the civilians, used to depend on supplies from air.

And the weather was always not that kind," Gen Hooda told PTI over phone.

He said that after the creation of the tunnel, supplies can be ensured for troops as well as civilians who have to face harsh winters as the mercury plummets even up to minus 40 degrees below zero.

Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari had said the project, for which norms have been relaxed and which was secured about 10 per cent below the tender cost, will benefit the defence forces.

"Defence forces have to face hard time ensuring supplies to border post during winters. This tunnel will ensure smooth supplies," he had said.

Sanjay Jaju of the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited retweeted a tweet which said, "Zojila tunnel from Srinagar will provide year-round connectivity for the Indian Army to Leh that remains cut off from the rest of the country for six months in a year."

Many of the people on Twitter hailed the project's approval, saying it will bring relief to the people in Leh, Ladakh and Kashmir.

"Zojila tunnel will be the longest bi-directional tunnel in Asia. (Its) construction period (will be) seven years because of a very difficult terrain where in some areas temperature dips to minus 45 degree Celsius. The tunnel shall be an engineering marvel as first of its kind in such a geographical area," Gadkari had said on Wednesday.

He had said Prime Minister Narendra Modi will lay the foundation stone of the project and work on it is likely to start this year.

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 Leh-Ladakh region from Kashmir.

The Government has given its approval to the construction, operation and maintenance of the two-lane bi-directional Zojila Tunnel with Parallel Escape (Egress) Tunnel excluding approaches on Srinagar-Leh section, connecting NH-1A at Km 95 and at Km 118 in Jammu and Kashmir, on engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) mode.

The project will be implemented by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRT&H) through the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL) and is expected to be completed in seven years.

Some business community leaders also hailed the project and said it would have a positive impact on trade between the Valley and Ladakh region.

Javed Ahmad Tenga, president, Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), said the construction of the tunnel would be a good development.

It will definitely have a positive effect, he said.

It is a good development especially for the people of the Ladakh region as the area remains cut-off for almost six months. The connectivity will increase, Tenga said.

The KCCI president said once the connectivity is improved, it would have positive effects on the economy of the state.

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