Road block to Ladakh
Ladakh is one of the most underdeveloped regions of the state of Jammu and Kashmir in terms of infrastructure and connectivity. Though the biggest division in terms of the geographical area it occupies, the region is faced with difficult terrain and an unbearable weather conditions.
Though various initiatives have been taken by the government ( both at the federal and the local level) to get this region connected to the other parts of the state through an all-weather connectivity road, but very little progress has been observed on the ground level.
Last year the Union government issued a contract worth 10050 Cr to IRB Infrastructure Developers to construct the Zojila tunnel on the Srinagar-Kargil-Leh highway. The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways issued the orders for the construction, operation and maintenance of the longest tunnel in South Asia, Zojila pass tunnel to the company and asked it to start work on the project at an earliest.
The project is partly shared by IL&FS which has bagged the 4,899-crore Zojila pass tunnel project that will connect Srinagar, Kargil and Leh. The company got the project for its expertise in local area specialisation in Jammu and Kashmir.
The company bid was as low as almost half of the highest bidder, enabling it to emerge as lowest bidder in the tendering process conducted by the Road Ministry. Experience in on-going projects in J&K — where the terrain is difficult, climate harsh, and law and order situation volatile — helped IL&FS commit to complete the project at a relatively low budget.
The low cost could be partly explained by the fact that the company is also implementing the Z-morh tunnel project, and has completed the Chenani-Nashri tunnel project in the region.
The steep altitude, extreme cold weather and law and order problems make it difficult for contractors to work in the region. Also, the area where the Zojila pass tunnel project has to be implemented sees a drop in temperature to sub- zero levels. It remains inaccessible for almost six months a year.
But the construction giant is facing difficulties in executing the project. The lenders are not just worried about their exposure to IL&FS Transportation Network (ITNL) but also over two projects of significant importance-the Zojila Tunnel and Srinagar Tunnelway (SSTL)-that will connect Kashmir with Ladakh.
Work on the Z-Morh tunnel that is part of SSTL has come to a halt since July 20 due to a funds crunch. There is little progress on the prestigious Zojila tunnel. Here, a major concern is about ITNL’s promise to complete the project with Rs 4500 crore, which is lower than the project cost of around Rs 5400 crore.
The infrastructure major is yet to submit a Rs 500 crore bank guarantee to the National Highway and Infrastructure Corporation to get the advance to carry out the construction. This project is being undertaken with 100% government funding.
Ladakh is the largest region among the three divisions of the state in terms of area. It is a desert plateau located at a height of 11,000 feet above sea level. Owing to its geographical location and cold region, it remains cut off from the rest of the state and the world for six months of winter when there is heavy snow on the ground.