The tunnel will ensure round the year connectivity to Ladakh as it will bypass Zoji La (pass) which remains snowbound for six months. Work began on the Zoji La tunnel near Drass on Thursday with Union Minister Nitin Gadkari initiating the first blast for the project

The 14.15 km long Zoji La (pass) tunnel which will connect Sonmarg to Drass will not only ease physical connectivity of the strategic Ladakh region with rest of India throughout the year but will also help add more teeth to the Indian Army, a top official in Kargil said Thursday.

Work began on the Drass side of the tunnel on Thursday with Union minister for road transport and highways Nitin Gadkari initiating the first blasting of the tunnel.

The tunnel assumes significance in the light of India’s standoff with China along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh.

“It was a long pending demand of the people of Ladakh. It will be a strategic tunnel that will connect Ladakh with the rest of India 24x7,” Kargil district commissioner Baseer-ul-Haq Choudhary said.

“Obviously, it is going to be a major achievement for us. The tunnel will not only provide physical connectivity to the region but will also establish an emotional connect with the rest of India,” he added.

The district commissioner said with this tunnel employment opportunities will open up for the people of Ladakh and supply of essential commodities will also be maintained round the year.

“Ladakh being a tourist destination, this tunnel will give immense impetus to tourism, especially winter tourism like ice hockey, skiing and other activities,” he said.

Choudhary also said that from the defence point of view, the tunnel will add more teeth to the Indian security forces in the region and in turn strengthen national security.

“It will be of great importance to the defence forces of the country. This project shall bring to fruition 70 years of overwhelming public demand of Ladakh region,” he said.

After infrastructure development and finance company IL&FS went bust, the project that was allotted to it in May 2018 was stopped in July 2018, and the contract was terminated in January 2019 by the National Highways & Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL). The project was re-awarded to Megha Engineering & Infrastructure LTD (MEIL).

In February, Gadkari reviewed the whole project in detail and the project was approved afresh on May 23.

The construction period is now six years.

The total integrated cost of the project including Zoji La tunnel and approaches up to Z-Morh tunnel works out to Rs 10,643 crores.

The tunnel is being constructed at an altitude of about 3,000 metres under Zoji La pass which connects Srinagar to Leh through Drass and Kargil but remains open for only six months in a year. Heavy snow forces the closure of the road for six months.