Jammu Tawi, Mar 05
With the last date of tenders against the rebidding for constructing Asia's longest tunnel between Kashmir and Ladakh, ending today the March 06, a fresh process for executing the mighty project has been undertaken by the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways.
In the backdrop of uncertainty looming over Asia's longest bidirectional Zojila tunnel, connecting Kashmir's Sonmarg with Gumri area in Ladakh's Kargil district, after the Centre terminated contract with the beleaguered executing agency, IL&FS Transportation Networks Ltd.
Though the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has gone for rebidding of the 14.31-km tunnel project, there is every possibility of losing an entire working season in completing the exercise of awarding the project to another company for execution.
“This is the most difficult and challenging contract not only in India but in the entire Asia. We have retendered the project and it will take some time to complete the process of evaluating financial as well as technical bids. The possibility of losing a complete working season in this process can't be ruled out,” said a senior official of the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation (NHIDCL).
The NHIDCL had sent the letter of contract termination to IL&FS on January 15 and the project was offered for rebidding on February 13. The last day for submission of online bids is March 6. The IL&FS was awarded the contract on January 19 this year.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had laid the foundation of the project on May 19 last year. The 14.31-km tunnel project holds strategic and socio-economic importance for the Ladakh region. It will help India to keep a check on the growing influence of China and Pakistan in Ladakh. Besides, the project will not only meet the strategic requirements of the nation but also reduce travel time to cross Zojila from 3.5 hours to just 15 minutes.
“Over 30 major avalanches have been reported in the Zojila region in recent months while there is still 3 to 4 metres of snow accumulated. So, it is not an easy job to execute work under such challenging climatic conditions. Yet, IL&FS executed nearly 7 to 10 per cent ground work,” the official said.
He said the government would fix the responsibility of IL&FS for abandoning the project by imposing a penalty on it. “As per the terms of the agreement, if it (contract) is terminated due to defaults on the part of IL&FS, the company will not only forfeit its security deposit but also won't get any amount from the NHIDCL,” he said.
The construction period of the project was 2,555 days ie seven years, which was to be reckoned from the date of commencement of construction.