Riyaz ul Khaliq
SRINAGAR: After failing consecutively for five times to evoke the interest of builders, the main contractor of the Chenani-Nashri tunnel, IL&FS Transportation Networks Limited, has been awarded the bid for the construction of the 14.31 km-long, multi-million dollar Zoji La tunnel.
The tunnel is being bored for all-weather connectivity between Kashmir and cold desert Ladakh. It will be the longest tunnel ever made in India.
The IL&FS, which has its operations based across India, won the contract with its bid of Rs 4,899.42 crore against an estimated cost of Rs 5,940 crore.
The developer is scheduled to construct the tunnel over a period of 2,555 days (7 years). The tunnel is being executed by the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL).
It will be the third contract to IF&LS in J&K after the Chenani-Nashri and Z Morh tunnels.
The Government of India (GoI) had earlier proposed to build the tunnel under the Public Private Partnership mode, where the private player would make the initial investment, to later be recovered via toll tax. However, despite bids for the project being called five times since 2013, all had to be cancelled. No bid came in one instance, and as for the rest, only a single private player showed an interest each time, rendering the auction non-viable.
After failing consecutively for five times to evoke the interest of builders, the NHIDCL once again invited tenders in March this year for construction, operation and maintenance of the two-lane, bi-directional Zoji La Tunnel with a parallel escape tunnel on the Srinagar-Leh section in Jammu and Kashmir on engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) mode.
The construction agency will, however, maintain the tunnel for 10 years after the project is completed, the tender document mentions.
“Since the project was approved in 2013, we would invite (tenders) on BOT (build-operate-transfer) basis. But developers were not interested,” a Jammu-based NHICL official said. “However, after the planners changed it to EPC basis, four bidders turned up for it in June, and bids were opened on July 28.”
In BOT, the bidder has to invest money from his own pocket.
It was on October 17 2013 that the then Dr Manmohan Singh-led UPA-II cabinet approved the ambitious fair-weather project.
Zoji La is a high-range pass situated at an altitude of 11,575 ft on the Srinagar-Kargil-Leh highway, traversing through the giant but rough Himalayas of this restive region.
The surface routes into the Ladakh region – which consists of the most part of the territory of Jammu and Kashmir – are cut off from the rest of the world for almost six months a year because of the heavy snows each winter brings the Himalayas.
Work on the tunnel is set to start this month after a bid is opened to appoint a Consultant to act as the Authority’s Engineer for the implementation of this project.
The Consultant will have a contract of 132 months, during which the GoI shall spend almost Rs 9,090 crores.
It may be noted that the Divisional Commissioner, Kashmir, during his visit to the proposed site of the tunnel on December 18 2014, had directed the executing authority to change the alignment of the proposed service road/approach road as it “bisected the Amarnath Shrine Board camp and was in close proximity of river Sindh, thus violating the J&K High Court directions that constructions within 100 metres of the river bank were prohibited”.
Four major private developers bid for the multi-thousand crore Rupee project, namely L&T, IL&FS, Jaypee Infratech and Reliance Infra.
Interestingly, the IL&FS was the main connoisseur of the Chenani-Nashri tunnel, inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on April 2 this year, after a delay of almost ten months.
The project was, however, executed by the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI).
“We have had no difficulty (in executing the project),” said the NHAI’s Chenani-Nashri project director, MT Attard. “The work done (by IL&FS) is satisfactory,” he told Kashmir Reader.
Work on the tunnel, which reduced the surface road length between Kashmir and Jammu by around 40 kms, was started on May 23 2011 and was set to be completed in 2016.
Attard said that IL&FS created a Special Purpose Vehicle Company, the Chenani-Nashri Tunnelway Limited, through which it executed its operations.
The project cost of the 9.2 km tunnel was over Rs 3,700 crore.
“Financial evaluation is in progress,” the NHIDCL official told Kashmir Reader when asked when work was likely to start on the project. “A Letter of Award (LoA) is being issued shortly, for which documents are being checked.”
He said that work will “most probably start this month… no more than the first week of September”.
“There are almost 800 people working on the 6 km-long Z Morh tunnel, on which 50 percent of the workers are locals (from the Kashmir region),” he said.
The Z Morh tunnel is being constructed some kilometres away from the proposed site of the Zoji La tunnel.
The official added that, like with the Z Morh tunnel, the NHIDCL is expecting over that 1,500 people will work on the Zoji La tunnel. “And half of the workers must be locals,” he said about the project’s job creation potential in the region, where the unemployment figure stands at over five lakh people, most of them in their youth.
The official further remarked that, once completed, the Zoji La tunnel will probably be the longest in the whole of South Asia. “The Chenani-Nashri tunnel is the longest road tunnel in India, so far,” he added.
The IL&FS has been involved in the development and implementation of important highways, flyovers, bridges and roads. A note on its official website claims that these projects have been designed to international standards in terms of technology and facilities. These roads are strategically important as they connect major industrial and social centres of India.