The ambitious Zojila Tunnel project, aimed at providing all-weather connectivity between the Kashmir valley and the Ladakh region, has encountered significant challenges due to difficult terrain and harsh weather conditions. As a result, the completion deadline for the 13-kilometer-long tunnel has been extended to December 2030. This tunnel, considered to be the longest of its kind in Asia and situated at the highest altitude, holds strategic importance as it will alleviate the issue of highway closures during winter due to heavy snowfall. These closures effectively cut off the Ladakh region from the rest of Kashmir.
While approximately 40% of the tunnel’s construction has been accomplished, the remaining work faces considerable delays due to the intricate terrain and weather-induced difficulties. Captain IK Singh of the Border Roads Organisation highlighted that the region is prone to avalanches, leading to several halts in the construction process. Originally slated for completion by December 2026, the project’s revised deadline reflects the recognition of these challenges and the need for a more extended timeframe.
The Zojila tunnel project traverses through the Zojila Pass, situated at an elevation of 11,578 feet on the Srinagar-Kargil-Leh National Highway. The impassable conditions during the winter months hinder the movement between Ladakh and Kashmir, making this tunnel a critical infrastructure development that will enable uninterrupted access throughout the year. Once operational, the tunnel is expected to reduce the travel time across the Zojila pass significantly – from four hours to a mere 15 minutes.
Spanning from Baltal in the Ganderbal district of central Kashmir to Minimarg in Ladakh’s Kargil district, the single-tube Zojila tunnel features an 18-kilometer-long approach road. Imtiaz Ahmed, the construction manager of Megha Engineering and Infrastructure Limited (MEIL), which is overseeing the tunnel’s construction, revealed that the total length of the project spans 31 kilometers. The construction method employed, known as the new Austrian tunnelling method, promises enhanced safety, quality, and speed in tunnel construction.
Highlighting the progress achieved so far, Ahmed noted that cutting has been completed on 6 kilometers of the 13-kilometer stretch, evenly divided between the two ends. The tunnel’s importance lies in overcoming the operational challenges posed by snowfall during the winter months. The four-month-long highway closure hampers not only local inhabitants and tourists but also poses logistical challenges for military movements.
Ahmed further explained that while snow clearing is relatively manageable from Dras to Minamarg, the stretch from Minamarg to Baltal presents significant challenges during those months. The operational tunnel will address these issues, ensuring seamless connectivity and unobstructed movement even during the harshest winter conditions. The utilization of cutting-edge construction technology, inspired by methods employed in Europe and North America, augurs well for the project’s overall efficiency and safety.
In conclusion, the Zojila Tunnel project stands as a testament to India’s determination to overcome challenging geographical conditions and provide crucial infrastructure for the benefit of its citizens. While the revised completion deadline of December 2030 reflects the acknowledgment of the hurdles posed by the terrain and weather, it also underscores the nation’s commitment to enhancing connectivity and accessibility for remote regions. Once operational, this tunnel will not only reduce travel time but also contribute to the overall socio-economic development of the Ladakh region.