The Government of India has reportedly started construction work for the all-weather 14.15km Zojila Tunnel that will connect Srinagar and Leh through Dras and Kargil.

Indian Union Minister for road transport, highways and MSMEs Nitin Gadkari is said to have initiated the work by virtually launching the tunnel’s first blast.

To be built at an altitude of approximately 3,000m under Zojila pass on NH-1, the tunnel aims to provide all-weather connectivity between the Srinagar valley and Leh.

Once completed, the tunnel is expected to reduce the travel time from Srinagar valley and Leh from 3 hours to 15 minutes while increasing the safety of commuters, especially from avalanches during the winter.

In addition, the tunnel is expected to bring socioeconomic benefits for people living in Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.

The project was first conceived in 2005, however, could not proceed until now.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone for the project in May 2018 and the construction contract was awarded to IL&FS company.

IL&FS could not go ahead with the project due to financial problems, following which the project was terminated in January last year.

In a statement, the Road Transport Ministry said: “The construction cost of Zojila Tunnel was earlier worked out at Rs6.58bn ($89m) and after considering the escalation at 5% per annum and the total capital cost of the project as Rs8.31bn ($113m) crore by NHIDCL.

“Thus, the total integrated cost of the project including Zojila Tunnel and approaches up to Z-Morh tunnel works out to Rs10.643bn ($144m).”

Earlier this month, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the world’s highest-altitude tunnel, called Atal Tunnel, in Rohtang Pass in the state of Himachal Pradesh.