About 900 out of 1000 men working on the 13-km long Zojila Tunnel are from Jammu and Kashmir
The work on the strategic Zojila Tunnel, which will provide all-weather connectivity between the Ladakh region in the upper Himalayas and the rest of India, and will become a great connectivity facilitator for the Indian armed forces, is powered by hundreds of locals from Kashmir and Ladakh. 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. About 900 out of 1000 men working on the 13-km long Zojila Tunnel are from Jammu and Kashmir.
More than half of the 200 engineers are also Kashmiris.
"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 on major projects in railways, road, and power in Jammu and Kashmir over the last 20 years, workers say they have experience working in big infrastructure projects NDTV said.
"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.
"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. Sometimes, they surpass my expectations also. If I think today six-meter tunnelling is possible, next morning they say we have some seven meters," Harpal Singh, project manager, told NDTV
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 against Pakistani intruders in 1999, is a perpetual nightmare.
Crossing the Zojila Pass at 11,500 thousand feet is a challenge for the pass is closed for five 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 logistical support that the Indian armed forces need to keep soldiers on the Pakistan and China front well-stocked through the year, NDTV said.
With the Zojila pass shut down in winter, only Indian Air Force planes were able to fly into Ladakh. By 2024, when the tunnel is expected to be open for military use, that is all set to change. Once complete, the 4,500-crore rupee (about 600 mn USD) project will end up being the longest road tunnel in India.