Jammu and Kashmir is now poised to witness a strategic and socio-economic change with the impetus coming from a proposed web of tunnels, as it will soon see the opening of Zoji La Tunnel and three more tunnels. Connectivity for people from the Kashmir Valley and the Ladakh region will get a boost when the tunnels will be opened which will greatly reduce the distance and also give an all-weather access to other parts of India.
While decreasing the distance and travel time, the upcoming tunnels will save fuel. The movement will be possible in all-weather conditions which often closes at the time of snow and rains. It will also lead to increase in trade and increase the revenue of the state. Also, tourism will come as the gainer even as the people of the state become the biggest beneficiaries.
Major General D.K. Mehta (Retd), said, “The move is very important as infrastructure is required in the region especially for the defence and people as the roads are blocked for five months from November to March every year due to heavy snowfall. Besides, the tunnels will also help to avert road accidents due to avalanches.” The Zoji La Tunnel will not just alleviate the agony of the local people but will also help the forces in following the dominating posture against Pakistan.
However, the challenges of building a long tunnel in the rough environment and the different mountain ranges are enormous. The Himalayas are the world’s youngest mountain range. They shift and grind, and is still moving, expanding and shrinking. Digging through entire strata of withered rocks will be a challenge for the engineers to materialise these strategic plans towards sprucing up the infrastructure.
To cater for natural vagaries, the National Highway and Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd (NHIDCL) is seized with the challenge to construct avalanche protection infrastructure. The construction of these structures concurrently with the tunnels will give the region the connectivity that it is looking for. “The tunnels will provide shelter to troops and ammunition from both enemy shelling and extreme weather. They can also be used for NBC (nuclear, chemical, biological) protection and establishing command and control centres,” said Brigadier S.K. Chatterji (Retd).
What began with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s inauguration of the 9.2 km long Chenani-Nashri tunnel road tunnel has now received further impetus. Prime Minister Modi opened India’s longest road tunnel on the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway, which cuts short the journey between the two cities by 30 km and reduces travel time by two hours in April last year.
“While the decision to construct tunnels on the Srinagar-Leh axis is significant, connectivity may not be achieved without addressing the problem of frequent closure due to avalanches since the road stretch between the proposed tunnels has a large number of recorded avalanche sites. This hazard can only be overcome by either constructing another tunnel or other avalanche protection measures,” said Dr. Simrit Kahlon, Head of the Department of Geography, Punjab University. The Srinagar-Leh Highway connecting the two main regions of Jammu and Kashmir is strategically one of the important roads in the country.
It assists in maintaining connectivity to the Ladakh region and also sustaining security forces deployed in the strategic areas of Dras, Kargil and Siachen. However, the region remains cut off from the rest of the country for more than five months in a year. India is finally kick-starting the plan to build as many as 17 tunnels along the borders with Pakistan and China for faster troop mobility, as well as storage of critical war-fighting assets like missiles, without the threat of detection by enemy satellites, and spy drones. The country seeks to improve its defences by upgrading its logistics. These tunnels will be built to effect all-weather connectivity with the Northern frontiers.