New Delhi: The government has invited fresh bids for construction of 14.15-km long tunnel across Zojila Pass for all-year connectivity between Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh regions.
The tunnel project, stalled for about six years, holds strategic significance as Zojila Pass is situated at an altitude of 11,578 feet on the Srinagar-Kargil-Leh National Highway and remains closed during winters due to heavy snowfall.
The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways through National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd (NHIDCL) invited bid … for “construction of 14.15 km long tunnel across Zojila Pass on Sonmarg-Kargil section of NH-1 between union territories of J&K and Ladakh along with approaches” through an engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract.
The Zojila tunnel project and a road both will be built under EPC mode at an estimated cost of Rs 4,430 crore, as per officials.
Earlier Road Transprot and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari had said that the tunnel for all-year connectivity between Leh and Srinagar may undergo some design changes to prevent cost escalation as the government plans to complete the project at the earlier estimated cost of about Rs 6,800 crore.
“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,” he had told PTI.
Though the revised project cost estimate of a little over Rs 8,000 crore has been sent to the Cabinet, “we are deliberating on minor design changes to prevent cost escalation,” the minister had said.
“Besides the escape tunnel, we can do away with vertical shafts not compromising with safety,” he had said, adding that rebidding for the project was expected in a month or two.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had in May 2018 laid the foundation stone for the Rs 6,800 crore project, billed as the Asia”s longest bi-directional tunnel, in Jammu and Kashmir.
However, barely months after the foundation, the NHIDCL on January 15, 2019 terminated the contract awarded to troubled IL&FS group company IL&FS Transportation after it abandoned the project citing financial problems.
The project which was earlier constructed on hybrid annuity mode will now be converted into EPC mode, according to Gadkari.
The cancellation of the award in January last year was the second time NHIDCL had scrapped the contract for the 14.15-km tunnel project which would cut down the 3.5-hour long drive through the mountainous Zojila Pass to just 15 minutes.
The corporation had earlier cancelled the bid of IRB Infrastructure. IL&FS Transportation in 2017 emerged as the lowest bidder in the rebidding process.
Unveiling a plaque for commencement of work for the tunnel, Modi had said, “Zojila tunnel is not a mere tunnel but a modern day marvel.”
The Cabinet on January 3, 2018 had approved the Zojila tunnel project with Parallel Escape (Egress) tunnel between Baltal and Minamarg on the Srinagar-Leh section of NH-1A at a total cost of Rs 6,800 crore.
The project was expected to be completed in seven years.
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