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India invites new bids for strategic Zojila tunnel project

    Ravnish Sharma
    By Ravnish Sharma Replies (6)

    India government started new bidding process to get a contractor for building the Zojila tunnel project.

    Government has made several attempts before but was unable to find a reliable contractor who is willing to do the work. When the contract with with first contractor IRB Infrastructure was cancelled, in a rebidding process in in 2018 M/S IL&FS Transportation Networks Ltd was awarded by the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL). But after exactly one year, after M/S IL&FS Transportation Networks Ltd completed only around 7-10% of the ground work, NHIDCL ended the contract and started a new bidding process. Almost two years on, nothing came out of this process.

    The Zojila tunnel at an altitude of 11,578 feet is strategically most important for India. Currently Ladakh region is cut off from Kashmir in the winters because of heavy snow. When finished Zojila tunnel will be Asia’s longest bi-directional tunnel. For India the tunnel has most importance to lessen the growing influence of Pakistan and China in an isolated Ladakh region.

    Four months ago government announced they would make design changes in the Zojila tunnel to reduce the costs. Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari said "We are planning to make some design changes that may include doing away with escape tunnel and instead (have) alternative tunnels to cross from one side to the other as it will be my endeavour to prevent cost escalation and build it at the previous estimated cost of Rs 6,800 crore..."  Originally the project was approved with a Parallel Escape (Egress) tunnel between Baltal and Minamarg on the Srinagar-Leh section of NH-1A. Also the original plans included most advanced tunnel systems with a radio system, overheight vehicle detection, fully transverse ventilation system, UPS, emergency lighting, CCTV monitoring, variable message signs (VMS), traffic logging etc.

    The project is stalled almost for 7 years now with contractors abandoning and no takers in the subsequent tender etc. Because of altitude and the recent growing of tension with China, it is very difficult to find skilled workers in general for the projects in the region.

    A similar tunnel in the neighbouring and less challenging Rs 2,379cr Z-Morh Tunnel in Jammu Kashmir was taken by APCO Amarnathji Tunnelway 4 months ago.