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PM Modi kickstarts work for Zojila tunnel in Leh

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will also participate in the closing ceremony of 100th birth anniversary of the 19th Kushak Bakula Rinpoche.

india Updated: May 19, 2018 13:06 IST
PM Modi,Narendra Modi,Srinagar
Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the concluding session of a party event in New Delhi. (Sonu Mehta/HT PHOTO)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday kickstarted work for Zojila tunnel, Asia’a longest and strategic bi-directional tunnel, to provide all weather connectivity between Jammu and Kashmir’s Srinagar, Kargil and Leh.

The prime minister who is on a one-day visit to all the three regions – Leh, Kashmir and Jammu – also attended the closing ceremony for the birth centenary celebrations of the 19th Kushok Bakula Rinpoche (Buddhist spiritual guru).

The tunnel will cut down time taken to cross Zojila pass from the present three and a half hours to just fifteen minutes.

The pass is situated at an altitude of 11,578 feet on Srinagar-Kargil-Leh National Highway and remains closed during winters due to heavy snowfall which cuts off Ladakh region from Kashmir.

As part of the project, 14.15 km-long two lane bi-directional single tube tunnel would be constructed.

Modi’s visit is the first after the Centre announced suspension of operations against terror groups during the holy month of Ramzan.

This is his second visit to Leh, a Himalayan town sharing border with Pakistan and China and located 450 km north of the state’s summer capital city of Srinagar. He had visited here on August 12, 2014 and inaugurated a hydel power project.

After reaching the airport, the prime minister stopped on the road and met people who had come to welcome him.

“I thank the wonderful people of Leh for the warm welcome. I am delighted to be here,” he tweeted

The prime minister will participate in the closing ceremony of 100th birth anniversary of the 19th Kushak Bakula Rinpoche.

Bakula was seen as the force behind several political agitations in the region and was its voice all over the world. He was born in Matho on May 21, 1917, and educated at Geshes, Lhasa (Tibet). A scholar of the Mahayana school of Buddhism, he was head priest of the Spituk Gompa. He died in 2003.

Bakula Rinpoche served the state and nation as he was elected as the member of legislative assembly of Jammu and Kashmir in 1951. He became a minister in the then state government.

He was elected as Member of Parliament representing Ladakh for two consecutive terms -- 1967 and 1971. During 1962 Sino-Indian war, he had allowed the Army to convert a section of his Pethub Monastery into a makeshift military hospital.

In 1989, he was appointed as India’s ambassador to Mongolia which made him the first and only Monk diplomat in the world.

Over a period of ten years, he helped reopen ancient monasteries, organise Buddhist peace conferences and re-established Buddhism. Under his guidance, Pethub Monastery and Dechen Ling Nunnery in Ulaanbaatar developed into important centres of learning for the Mongolian Buddhists.

His services in Mangolia were deeply appreciated and he is foundly remembered as ‘Elchin Bagsh’ (ambassador-teacher). In 2001, he was conferred the Polar Star award, Mongolia’s second-highest civilian award. The Pethub Stangey Choskhor Ling Monastery was also built at Ulaanbaatar.

Former governor S K Sinha had renamed Leh airport as Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport as his Spituk Monastery was in vicinity of the airfield.

At the same event, Modi will unveil a plaque to mark the commencement of work on the Zojila tunnel, which will provide all-weather connectivity to this region.

The 14 km tunnel will be country’s longest road tunnel and Asia’s longest bi-directional tunnel.

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, chaired by the prime minister, had approved the construction, operation and maintenance of this tunnel between Baltal and Minamarg, on the Srinagar-Leh section at a total cost of Rs 6,800 crore earlier this year.

The construction of this tunnel will provide all-weather connectivity between Srinagar, Kargil and Leh and will lead to all-round economic and socio-cultural integration of these regions.

The road remains cut off from November to March due to heavy snowfall, landslides and avalanches. Normally, it takes around four hours to drive through the mountainous 9 km through Zoji La but after the construction of tunnel, which is likely to be completed in 2026, it will take only 15 minutes. PTI SKL AAR AAR

First Published: May 19, 2018 11:36 IST