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Rahul to launch Kashmir tunnel

New Delhi, Sept. 26: Rahul Gandhi will lay the foundation stone for a Rs 2,700-crore tunnel aimed at making the Srinagar-Leh road an all-weather route, though some read a deeper meaning in the Congress leader’s maiden inauguration of a big-ticket infrastructure project.

Analysts claimed it was a sure sign of change at a time the chorus has grown stronger for a more important role for Rahul in the party.

The Jammu and Kashmir unit also gave credit to Rahul for the project which, once complete, would be an important link for soldiers posted in battle-scarred Kargil and other border areas.

“I have been fighting for the project for five years and I must admit it has become a reality today only because of Rahul Gandhi. Last year he had visited Kargil and he immediately understood the aspirations of the people here,” state unit chief Saifuddin Soz told The Telegraph.

It was because of the Congress general secretary, Soz added, that the project — cleared by the cabinet on September 15 — had been put on the priority list.

The Border Roads Organisation will build the 6.5km Z-Morh tunnel that sources said would benefit more than seven lakh residents of Sonmarg and Gagangir areas of Ganderbal district.

Leh is connected to the mainland via the Jammu-Srinagar-Jozila-Kargil-Leh and Manali-Sarchu-Leh routes. Both these routes remain completely cut off for six to seven months from November to May because of heavy snowfall and avalanches.

The construction of the tunnel, between a stretch on the Srinagar-Leh section of NH1-D, will start about 80km from Srinagar. A parallel escape tunnel will be built to deal with accidents and calamities.

Sources said the tunnel, expected to be a link between Ladakh and the rest of the country, would be designed in such a way that 2,500 trucks and 5,000 passenger cars can pass through every day. “It is going to be a challenging project. The temperature dips up to minus 50 degrees Celsius. The area is also avalanche prone,” said a senior official.

Officials estimate that it will take at least six years to build the tunnel. The financial bids for the project will be opened on October 15. About 25 firms have bid for the project. As of now the road ministry has fixed October 4 as the possible date for laying the foundation stone.

Senior officials, including the director-general, roads, and BRO officials have been visiting the area to keep an eye on the weather conditions.

Chief minister Omar Abdullah, his father and Union minister Farooq Abdullah and senior Congress leaders are scheduled to attend the launch.