Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi said on Thursday that his party would do everything possible to address the problems of people in the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir.
Addressing a public meeting at the Polo Grounds in Leh town that drew a large crowd, Gandhi said work on the tunnel across the Zojilla Pass would commence on Thursday.
Once the tunnel was completed, the Ladakh region would enjoy round-the-year road connectivity. The region is otherwise cut off, under a thick layer of snow, for almost half the year.
"The foundation stone for the first tunnel is being laid today (Thursday). The work on the Rs.2,680 crore project would be expeditiously completed, to ensure that Ladakh remains connected with the rest of the country round the year," Rahul Gandhi said.
The Congress leader also said work would be started to complete another road link from Leh via Korzok to connect the region with Jammu.
The cold desert of Ladakh remains cut off for almost six months because of heavy snowfall on the Zojilla Pass, which is the main road link between the region and the rest of the country.
Gandhi expressed happiness that the public mood appeared celebratory during his visit.
"When I came here after the cloudburst tragedy of 2010, there was mourning all around. I am happy to see the festive mood today," Gandhi said.
He said the central government had provided enough funds for relief and reconstruction after the cloudburst hit Leh town two years ago.
Earlier in the day, Gandhi met members of the Leh Autonomous Hill Development Council. Progress on various development projects in the district was reviewed at that meeting.
Rahul Gandhi is also scheduled to address a public meeting in Kargil town of the region before flying to Sonamarg. At the hill station in Ganderbal district of the Kashmir Valley, union Minister for Road Transport, Highways and Railways C.P. Joshi will lay the foundation stone of the tunnel.
To begin with, a 6.5-km long tunnel would be dug to connect the hill station of Sonamarg with the rest of the valley round the year.
"After the completion of the first tunnel, another 13.9-km long tunnel would be constructed across the Zojilla Pass, which will lead to the Ladakh region," Brigadier TPS Rawat, chief engineer of the Border Roads Organisation, which has been entrusted with the tunnel construction, told IANS.