When I had travelled to Kargil about two years ago, people with whom I met extended a warm gesture. I learned a lot about Kargil through my friend and host who was a journalist. He introduced me with common people of Kargil when we roamed around the market.
People with whom I talked were like story tellers as they had many experiences to share. They also talked about the problems they had in Kargil and most important issues among those were their long pending demand of construction of Zojila tunnel and opening of Kargil-Skardu route.
The Zojila issue had been taken up even earlier too with government however due to tender technicalities it got failed to start the work.
Now, the 6800 croreZojila tunnel foundation stone has been laid by Prime Minister of India. This tunnel when be ready, would serve many purpose and hence a multi advantage project.
The tunnel is a long pending demand of people of the region, specially of Kargil who have no option to go anywhere during winters as the Zojila gets closed during winters.
Announcements of building this tunnel have been promised many times by local leaders, however it remained just an election tool in regional politics till the Zojila tunnel project was approved by union cabinet committee on economic affairs in January 2018.
Now, when Zojila foundation stone would has been laid, there must be stringent monitoring for its completion within the timeline of project. Being far away from eyes of TRP viewers, people living in areas like Leh, Laddakh, Dras, Kargil face many difficulties.
With the Zojila tunnel, it would become an all-weather road that would connect valley to hill, Srinagar to Kargil-Laddakh region and would bring down the crossing time of the Zojila from around 03 hours to just 15 minutes with proposed 14.5 km track of tunnel and will make it Asia’s longest bi-directional tunnel.
Nine kilometer long Zojila running on the high altitude of around 11000 feet at present brings a dangerous pass for travelers with its tough and curved terrains, whereas a tunnel with all safety measures and facilities would attract more tourists that will lead to more revenue and economic growth to region, would also enhance cultural exchanges and most importantly, would work as a bane for local population in case their emergency needs of travel.
In addition, strategic requirement of central government through making it easy for movements of armed forces is also an important factor considering the presently available medium that is limited to airlift of soldiers during winters.
This pass was once captured by Pakistani raiders during Indo-Pak war of 1947 but later captured by Indian army again in its operation named Operation Bison named by the then Lt Gen Cariappa.
After this foundation stone of building Zojila tunnel, government should also focus upon opening of talks with Pakistan for opening of Kargil-Skardu road.
Opening of this route would also extend a great help to people in Kargil region as most of the divided families may find some relief to let their travel reduced from four days to just few hours to meet their relatives and loved ones across line of control. The region has a cultural affinity on both sides of LoC and people on both sides want to meet each other.
In addition, opening of this route would also bring an economical boost in the existing cross border trade if trade would be allowed through this route.
At present, though India and Pakistan have no facility of crossing point (immigration center) on this side, but having so may benefit both countries in building stronger people to people relations and trade relations.
Now, as foundation stone of Zojila tunnel has been laid, we must also be hopeful that the another pending demand of opening up Kargil-Skrdu route would also be on table in coming time.
Also, it is true that the Zojila tunnel foundation stone will also strengthen foundation of trust building of people upon the governance that directly deal with developments and direct benefit projects.
However, the timeline of seven years of its scheduled completion needs a review to bring this in lesser time. Its start is definitely a good sign and victory of people’s mandate towards governance for development.