The work on the twin 8.5 kms long Banihal-Qazigund tunnel tubes has been suspended for last seven months for want of release of funds by National Highways Authority of India (NHAI).
Sources told Rising Kashmir that the work has been halted for last seven months by the Navayuga Engineering Company (NEC) as the NHAI has not paid Rs 500 crores to the company to carry on the project.
They said the project is under the PPP mode in which the connoisseur NEC was to invest its own money.
However, following the perilous weather conditions and 2016 unrest in Kashmir, the NEC claimed to have invested all its money into the project leading to suspension of work since last seven months.
Sources said the NEC post-2016 has been requesting NHAI to provide them Rs 500 crores as a loan till completion of project.
The SBI has also declined the NEC’s request for a new loan for the project while sending an intimidation to the company about the earlier loan being declared a Non- Performing Asset (NPA).
Ghulam Qadir Project Director NHAI told Rising Kashmir that the government has now accepted the NEC’s request and agreement has been signed.
“During this month, the money will be released to the NEC. They will repay it afterwards,” he said.
The Rs 2100 crores project started in 2011 by the NHAI was scheduled to be completed this year but is now expected to miss the newly revised deadline of 2019 as well.
Sources said the NEC’s workforce on the tunnel including some foreign experts have gone on a strike as the salaries have dried up.
An NEC official wishing anonymity alleged that State level NHAI officials have been misguiding the State government as well as the union transport ministry by stating that the work has not been halted but only slowed down.
“They have been telling everyone that the agreement will be signed soon. Since 2017 NEC has been asking them for assistance but they have been doing nothing,” he said.
In May this year, when the NHAI had announced that excavation work on two tubes has been completed, the reality was that work on the project was halted by NEC.
The tunnel, which is expected to reduce the distance between Banihal and Qazigund by 16 kms, has already missed several deadlines.
The NHAI has been blaming the perilous weather conditions for the delay.
The tunnel has two parallel tubes, one for each direction. Each tube would be seven metres (23 ft) wide with two lanes. The tubes would be interconnected by passages at every 500 metres for maintenance and emergency evacuation.
The tunnel would have forced ventilation for extracting smoke and stale air and infusing fresh air.
The existing Jawahar tunnel, under the Banihal pass, is at an elevation of 2,194 metres (7,198 feet) making it prone to avalanches, which often leads to closure and bottlenecks on the 265-km all-weather highway linking Kashmir with rest of India.
The new Banihal-Qazigund tunnel's elevation is 1,790 metres (5,870 feet), 400 metres below the Jawahar tunnel, thus making it less prone to avalanches.