The Logical Indian Crew

India's Mega Projects: Banihal-Qazigund Tunnel Provides All-Weather Connectivity In Jammu Kashmir

Built at 5,800 feet above sea level, the Banihal Qazigund tunnel has replaced the Jawahar tunnel as an all-weather and round-the-clock traffic option. Union Minister Nitin Gadkari called the project another milestone in the infrastructural development of Jammu and Kashmir.

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Banihal-Qazigund tunnel in Jammu and Kashmir is one of India's most significant all-weather tunnel initiatives. The objective was to facilitate an all-weather route for the traffic in the Union Territory, which would otherwise get obstructed due to snowfall and landslides in the winters. The double-tube four-lane tunnel completed its first 24-hour trial run for vehicular traffic in August 2021. Built at 5,800 feet above sea level, the Banihal Qazigund tunnel has replaced the Jawahar tunnel as an all-weather and round-the-clock traffic option. Union Minister Nitin Gadkari called the completion of the Banihal Qazigund tunnel another milestone in the infrastructural development of Jammu and Kashmir.

The new tunnel would bypass the Jawahar Tunnel and Shaitan Nalla, which become a nightmare for travellers in the winters. The tunnel holds strategic importance and connects Kashmir to the rest of the country at all times. Moreover, the elevation of the new tunnel is at 1,790 metres, which is 400 metres below the Jawahar tunnel, thereby making it less prone to avalanches. The tunnel has been built along the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway and costs nearly 2,100 crores. The construction had begun in 2011 and was completed recently in August 2021.

How Would The Tunnel Benefit?

The tunnel would reduce the travel time by one-and-a-half hours, and the distance of 16 km between Banihal in Jammu and Qazigund in South Kashmir. The tunnel has forced ventilation to extract smoke and stale air and infuse the tunnel with fresh air. Moreover, the tunnel is set to have state-of-the-art monitoring and control systems for security. Built with the Austrian tunnelling method, it has a state-of-the-art exhaust system to prevent gas formation inside with the help of 126 jet fans. There are tubes at every 500 metres in the corridor in case of an emergency. Moreover, 234 CCTV cameras and a fire-fighting system have been installed on both sides of the tube.

The ten years of the construction of the tunnel were very eventful. In the first five years of the beginning of the project, nearly 7.5 km of the total 8.5 km stretch was excavated. The excavation of the site neared completion by February 2017. Fast-forwarding the work of the tunnel, the government had completed the boring of the entire stretch till May 2018. The government had announced in 2019 that the tunnel would be open to the public by March 2020. However, the pace of the work slowed down, and the deadline was extended by a year. Finally, in August 2021, Nitin Gadkari, the Minister for Road Transport and Highways, inaugurated the corridor.

What Is BOT?

The tunnel is made on Build–operate–transfer basis. Build–operate–transfer (BOT) or build–own–operate–transfer (BOOT) is a form of project delivery method, usually for large-scale infrastructure projects, wherein a private entity receives a concession from the public sector (or the private sector on rare occasions) to finance, design, construct, own, and operate a facility stated in the concession contract. This public-private partnership enables the project proponent to recover its investment, operating and maintenance expenses in the project.

Apart from India, BOT projects are famous in several other countries like Pakistan, Taiwan, Turkey, Bahrain, Israel, Japan and a few other states of the US as well. The Banihal-Qazigund tunnel is a part of the ambitious project of the National Highways Authority of India to realign, restructure and redevelop the existing two-lane Jammu-Srinagar highway and construct a state-of-art four-lane road between the summer and winter capitals of Jammu and Kashmir.

The route was previously a part of the National Highway 1A, later renumbered as NH 44. Maharaja Pratap Singh built the Banihal cart track in the princely times. The reinvention of the all-weather road was not a smooth sail because the entire road project involved passing through two extensive and ten small tunnels. The rugged terrain of the Himalayas posed a significant challenge in front of the ground engineers. The infolds in the rocks, and the difficulty in digging for the tunnel extended the deadline several times and significantly increased the cost of production.

Who Built It?

Navayuga Engineering Company constructed the Banihal tunnel with SMEC India, an Australian engineering and development company subsidiary, as its independent consultant. The project was initially envisaged as a bi-directional single-tube tunnel. Still, later, the design for a uni-directional double-tube tunnel was approved since the NHAI found it to be a better alternative regarding technical and safety concerns.

The government undertakes such road projects as a part of the region's socio-economic development as well. Before the Banihal-Qazigund project became public, the passengers faced difficulty travelling from one part to another. The area lost connectivity from the rest of the country for months in the old days. Moreover, transporting essential commodities would often become a significant task to administrate before the project began.

Apart from engaging only the government, the project also used the local talent, thus enhancing the feeling of trust among the local people and the government. The engineering companies took extra effort to organize special training for the students of the National Institute of Technology, Srinagar and several other polytechnic institutions of the state. Moreover, local drivers had been provided special training in driving Volvos in Bengaluru and had been employed after that. After all the employment measures, the companies still faced a shortage of skilled workforce in the region and inevitably used skilled workforce from other parts of the country.

Infrastructural development projects like the Banihal-Qazugund all-weather tunnel provide connectivity to the remotest corners of the country and open doors for several economic opportunities for the locals, for instance, tourism. Such endeavours on the Centre's part benefit by enabling people to trust the government, especially in a region as hostile as Kashmir. Employment opportunities, socio-economic development of the area and its residents, increased brotherhood, better reach and apt utilization of the public money are a few of the many byproducts of such initiatives. These development decisions have a catalytic impact on the integration of the backward economy of Jammu and Kashmir with the rest of India by spurring trade and commerce.

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Writer : Ratika Rana
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