New Delhi: The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) on Wednesday cleared the Rs 6,808.69 crore strategic Zojila tunnel project to provide all-weather connectivity to Kargil and Leh which remain cut off from the rest of the country during the winter season.
Once operational, the tunnel would cut the travel time by over three hours while also bringing about all-round economic and socio-cultural integration of the region, Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari said at a press conference.
Gadkari said that talks about constructing this tunnel had started some 20 years ago.
"And yet, it is this government under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi which has decided to start work on it in one of the harshest weather locations in the world where temperature dips to minus 45 degrees Celsius," he said.
Gadkari said that tenders were issued four times for the project but it was only after the government relaxed some technical and financial qualifications that contractors started showing interest.
According to a statement, the CCEA chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave the approval for construction, operation and maintenance of two-lane bi-directional Zojila tunnel with Parallel Escape (Egress) tunnel.
"The project has strategic and socio-economic importance and shall be an instrument for the development of the economically backward districts in Jammu and Kashmir."
According to the government, the construction period of the project is seven years - to be reckoned from the date of commencement of construction. The civil construction cost of the project is Rs 4,899.42 crore.
The main objective of the project is to provide all whether connectivity to strategically important Leh region in Jammu and Kashmir which at the moment is limited to at best six months because of snow on the passes and threat of avalanches.
"This project alongwith other ongoing projects like 6.5 km long Z-Morh tunnel at Gagangir would ensure safe, fast and cheap connectivity between the two regions of Kashmir and Ladakh," it said.