Syed Junaid Hashmi
Part of 286-km-long four-laning of the Jammu-Srinagar highway, Prime Minister Narendra Modi Sunday inaugurated 9.28Km Nashri-Chenani tunnel, the longest in South-East Asia.
The structure consists of a 9 km long, two-laned main tunnel with a parallel escape tunnel of same length. The two tunnels are connected by 29 cross passages at regular intervals along the entire length of the tunnel. These cross passages can be used for evacuation of vehicles and commuters in case of breakdown or any other emergency.
There are two minor bridges on the south and north sides and 4-lane approach roads with Toll Plazas on both ends of the tunnel. The maximum height permitted in the tunnel is 5 meters and for checking the height special sensors have been installed just before the toll points at both ends.
As Modi arrived at Udhampur airport, he was received by governor N N Vohra and chief minister Mehbooba Mufti besides various other ministers and top officials of state. Modi was accompanied by Union Minister for Road Transport & Highways Nitin Gadkari and MoS in PMO Dr. Jitender Singh.
Built at an estimated cost of Rs 3720 Cr, the deadline of tunnel was May 2016. The delay has incurred additional cost of Rs 1200 cr. The tunnel has an efficient, transverse ventilation system. There are inlets bringing fresh air at 8 metre intervals and outlet for exhaust every 100 metres. There is also a fully-integrated control system with ventilation, communication, power supply, incident detection, SOS call box and fire fighting.
PM Modi was accompanied by his central ministers, governor N N Vohra and chief minister Mehbooba Mufti as he had a brief tour of the tunnel. The Chenani-Nashri tunnel is believed to have a very positive impact on the state economy. In making of this tunnel, the skill sets of local people were developed and improved, and they were engaged for construction of this tunnel.
To have an elaborate tour, Modi boarded vehicle along with Vohra and Mehbooba. The project has provided employment to over 2,000 unskilled and skilled youth of Jammu and Kashmir as 94 percent of the work force was from the state. Around 600 to 900 people from across the country also worked on this project in 3 shifts over the past 4 years.
Fitted with intelligent traffic mechanism, the tunnel has fully automatic smart control and no human intervention will be required for its operations. The tunnel is also equipped with advanced scanners to ward off any security threat. Very few tunnels in the world have this kind of fully integrated tunnel control. The project is also environment friendly. The time saving on the Jammu- Srinagar route will further result in fuel saving of approximately Rs 27 lakhs per day. Besides, the construction of the tunnel has avoided large –scale deforestation.
The twin-tube tunnel is all-weather tunnel between Udhampur and Ramban is not only India’s longest highways tunnel but also Asia’s longest bi-directional highways tunnel. Built at an elevation of 1200 metres on one of the most difficult Himalayan terrains, the tunnel will cut the travel time between Jammu and Srinagar by two hours, bypassing about 41 kms of road length. It will also ensure an all weather passage on a route that often sees heavy traffic jams and disruptions due to landslides, snow, sharp curves, breakdown of vehicles and accidents.
Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti in her speech showered all praises on Modi for being man of his words and the keeper of the promises. She congratulated him for his landslide UP victory in the elections and thanked him for supporting her government in the difficult situation of last year. She sought support from Delhi in managing the “river of fire” by implementing the Agenda of Alliance.
There was also no mention of Pakistan or dialogue with Hurriyat in her speech. She expressed hope that “I am sure; Prime Minister Narendra Modi would take Jammu and Kashmir closer to India.” While thanking Modi, Mehbooba said “my government cannot do anything without your help. I need your constant support in making Jammu and Kashmir the most developed state of the country.”
Emphasinzing that visit of PM to valley would boost tourism, she invited Modi to valley. “We want you to be our guest so that a message goes to the whole world that Kashmir is safe for tourists,” pleaded Mehbooba.
Mehbooba thanked Modi for keeping Rajnath Singh by her side in difficult times. Talking about his father late Mufti Muhammad Sayeed, Mehbooba said “my father shook hands with you to stop this river of fire and to take Kashmir out of the mess.”
Giving details about the other projects, Nitin Gandkari said that Rs 7000 crores will be invested in highways projects in Jammu and Kashmir in the next two years. He said a ring road will be built around Jammu at a cost of Rs 2100 crores and another one around Srinagar at a cost of Rs 2200 crores. “Work on this will start in the next three months,” he said.
Gadkari also informed that Zojila tunnel is being built between Leh and Ladakh at a cost of Rs 6000 crores. He informed that during the year 2016-17, Rs 1019 crore have been sanctioned for 72 projects in Jammu & Kashmir.
The crowd was all BJP dominated and there was no sight of PDP. Interestingly Mehbooba had only one colleague from her party accompanying R&B minister Naeem Akhtar. All cabinet and state ministers of BJP were present besides other party functionaries.
PM Modi on the occasion said that the tunnel will not only reduce the distance between Jammu and Srinagar, but will also promote tourism in the valley, open up employment opportunities for the youth and give a boost to development in the state. Addressing youth of valley, he said “choose between tourism and terrorism.”