The work on the strategic Zojila Tunnel, which will provide all-weather connectivity between Ladakh region and the rest of the country, is powered by hundreds of locals from Kashmir.
The Hyderabad company, Mega Engineering and Industries Limited (MEIL), executing the project says expertise in tunnelling by local labourers and engineers is helping them achieve their target ahead of schedule.
900 out of 1000 men working on the 13-km long tunnel are from Jammu and Kashmir.
“I have learnt through hard work and perseverance. Operating machine like hydraulic rig is very easy for me, not a difficult task. There is no fear when I drill in the middle of tunnel,” said Baba Latief from Bandipora.
Having worked at major projects in Railways, Road and Power in J&K over the last 20 years, workers say they have the experience.
“We have expertise in tunnelling projects. I can handle piping, motor use, etc. This is the fourth such project I’m working in,” said Sartaj Ahmad, from Anantnag, who is installing the piping systems in the tunnel.
More than half of the 200 engineers are also locals.
“We encounter three geological formations. Right now we are in Zojila formation which is most challenging,” said Merajudin, a geological expert.
As workers race to beat the deadline, project managers praise the role of locals.
“I’m totally banking on them. They are producing so much for me. Sometime, they surpass my expectations also. If I think today six meter tunnelling is possible, next morning they say we have some seven meters,” said Harpal Singh, project manager.
It’s these local workers who didn’t let the pace drop, even during Kashmir’s harsh winters that may ensure the completion of India’s strategic and prestigious project ahead of schedule.
Travelling between Srinagar and Leh presently through the Kargil district, where India fought a war in 1999, is a perpetual nightmare.
Crossing the Zojila pass at 11,500 thousand feet is an agony. The pass, closed for 5 months a year because of snowfall, is also narrow and getting stuck in traffic-jams in the dusty, high-altitude pass is often a daily reality.
The project will also transform the logistics support that the Indian Armed forces need to keep soldiers on the Pakistan and China front well-stocked through the year.
With the Zojila pass shut down in winter, only Air Force planes were able to fly into Ladakh. By 2024, when the tunnel is expected to open for defense use, that is all set to change.
The journey itself, across the pass, which now takes three hours will take only 30 minutes, a game changer. Once completed, the 4,500-crore project will end up being the longest road tunnel in India.