Even as its construction was started nine years ago, the new Qazigund-Banihal tunnel is yet to complete despite missing several deadlines. The project was envisaged to avoid frequent closure of Jawahar tunnel that leaves Kashmir Valley cut off from rest of the country.
Initially set to be completed by June 2016, the work on the Rs 2100 crore ambitious project has seen hiccups since its inception in 2011 due both to financial constraints and the concessionaire’s lethargic approach.
In 2011, the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) commissioned construction of two tunnels namely Chenani-Nashri and Qazigund-Banihal along the Srinagar-Jammu National Highway to reduce travel and make it motorable for all seasons.
Even as the 10.5 km Chenani-Nashri tunnel was thrown open by the end of 2018, the 8.5 km Qazigund-Banihal is still incomplete.
The excavation work inside the tunnel was completed in May 2018 and the NHAI officials had assured the government that its twin tubes would be made operational by January 2019. However the financial issues again delayed the project, sources said.
“The work on the project remained at halt for around a year for want of fund transfer to the executing agency,” an NHAI official said. He said the delay has resulted into further cost escalation of the project.
Project Manager NHAI, Gaurav Gopal, however, told Kashmir Post that they have now sufficient funds at their disposal. “The work, which was stopped due to lockdown in the wake of Covid19, has resumed now,” he said, adding that the project is likely to get completed by 2020 year.
The tunnel with two parallel tubes being constructed by Indian infrastructure major Navayuga Engineering Co (NEC) would reduce the distance between two sides by over 16 kms. Each tube will be seven meters (23 ft) wide with two lanes.
“The 1000 meter bench lining on either tube of the tunnel is still pending,” the NEC official said.
He said out of the approved amount of Rs 576 crore, Rs 270 cr have already been released in their favor. “Only after the lining is completed, the finishing work can be undertaken,” an official said.
The new Banihal-Qazigund tunnel’s elevation is 1,790 meters, i.e. 400 meters below the Jawahar tunnel making it less prone to avalanches.