New Delhi | Jagran News Desk: Union Road and Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari has said that the bi-directional all-weather Zojila tunnel, which has been touted as 'world's highest and Asia's longest' underpass, would be completed ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections while noting that the project has got all clearances from the state government.

"The completion of the project on paper is September 2026 but I have given them a target to complete the project by December 2023. It will create a new world record if we achieve the target three years before its scheduled time," Gadkari was quoted as saying by news agency ANI.

"We will provide all support and I will personally monitor things. If you (MEIL) faces any problem, they can come to meet me... We have to complete this project before 2024 as there is a (Lok Sabha) election at that time," he added.

What is the Zojila tunnel project?

Zojila tunnel will be Asia's longest bi-directional and all-weather tunnel that will connect Ladakh to Jammu and Kashmir's Srinagar. The Centre has said that it will have a height of 11,575 feet from the surface and will be 14.5 km long. The length of the approach road is 18.47 km, it said, adding that the total combined length of both the Zojila tunnel and the approach road is 32.62 km.

It also has an escape tunnel for emergencies, the Centre said, adding that the "present site location falls into seismic zone IV".

The project, which is located at the existing highway (NH-01) starting from Sonamarg in Jammu and Kashmir and ending at Minamarg in Ladakh, has a total cost of Rs 6,800 crore. It is being executed by Megha Engineering and Infrastructure Ltd. (MEIL) and APCO Infra.

The Centre said that this tunnel will help in connecting Ladakh with the rest of the country for the whole year. This will boost tourism in Ladakh and allow the Indian Armed Forces to have a "hassle-free movement" during any weather conditions. It will also ease the journey of the annual Amarnath Yatra pilgrims, the Centre said.

"This will be a heaven...This highway is a lifeline for the people (here) and these tunnels will ease their sufferings. The aim is to increase the economic growth, employment potential and promote handloom and handicrafts," Gadkari was quoted as saying by news agency PTI.

Why is the Zojila tunnel project is important?

The Srinagar-Ladakh highway, which is used currently, is not suitable for vehicular movement and stays closed for seven months -- from mid-November to April. The alternative routes are long-winding and time-consuming and are closer to the Indo-China and Indo-Pakistan borders. However, the bi-directional and all-weather Zojila tunnel will give the Indian Armed Forces a strategic advantage in the region by reducing the distance from 40 km to 13 km and travel time by 1.5 hours.

"This will be a heaven...This highway is a lifeline for the people (here) and these tunnels will ease their sufferings. The aim is to increase the economic growth, employment potential and promote handloom and handicrafts," PTI quoted Gadkari as saying.

Posted By: Aalok Sensharma