Early Construction Of Zojila Tunnels Main Poll Campaign Issue In Ladakh

3 May 2014
The Tribune (Chandigarh)
Arteev Sharma

Leh: The closure of the 434-km-long Srinagar-Leh road for the past six months has Ladakh reeling. And this is why the early construction of Zojila tunnels across the Zojila Pass has taken the centre stage in poll campaigns for the lone Ladakh Lok Sabha seat. The Ladakh parliamentary segment, spread over 1.73 lakh sq km, makes it the country's largest (area-wise) constituency. It will go to the polls on May 7. The campaigning for the seat ends on May 5. A visit to any hotel, guest house or retail shop in both the districts, Leh and Kargil, would tell you how grave the situation is: the stocks are near empty. There is no availability of fresh vegetables, fruits or other eatables, while the shopkeepers are only able to offer goods and packed foods stocked about six to seven months ago. Given the prevailing scenario, the early construction and completion of two tunnels across the Zojila Pass, which cut off Ladakh from rest of the world for almost six months, have become a significant issue in the poll campaign of all political parties with contesting candidates requesting early start and completion of the work on the Zojila tunnels. Interestingly, some political parties were earlier relying upon another crucial issue of the Union Territory (UT) status to Ladakh, which now has been pushed to the backseat by them. The Zojila Pass serves as the gateway to Ladakh region. The Leh-Srinagar highway, which was closed to traffic in November last year, is yet to be opened due to heavy accumulation of snowfall. The Union Government has decided to construct two tunnels for all-weather road connectivity with Ladakh. Presently, the feasibility study of two tunnels - Z Morh and Zojila tunnel - along the highway is underway. With aggressive China on its vast borders, Zojila is emerging as strategically important road. Tsewang Dolma, a woman shopkeeper in the Wakha area on the Kargil-Leh highway, said, 'We have been facing shortage of essential goods and eatables for the past two months. We can only offer Maggi, stocked almost seven months back, to the passengers as there are no other eatables left with us. For instance, onion is not available here and if we want to procure it, we will have to travel to Leh, about 200 km from here, and it will cost us Rs 120 per kg.' Aga Syed Kazim Sabri, an Independent candidate backed by the Islamiya School Kargil (ISK) and National Conference, said, 'The construction of tunnels across the Zojila Pass is our main poll plank as poor connectivity to the region is the main reason for its backwardness and umpteen hardships being faced by the people here. Our students are forced to go to either Kashmir or Jammu for higher education.' 'Frankly speaking, the Zojila tunnels are a more important issue than the Union Territory status for the entire Ladakh region in the parliamentary elections. We remain cut off from the rest of the world for almost six months as the region faces harshest time during winters. What we will do with the UT status if we don't exist. Nobody has shown any sincerity towards Ladakh. Whosoever becomes the Chief Minister, they don't bother for Ladakhi people and they treat us worse than animals,' Mohammad Subhan Zaffari, state executive member and vice-president of the Ladakh unit of the BJP said. He said the successive ruling regimes in the Centre and state have never shown any interest. 'The Zojila tunnels will play an important role for Ladakh like heart plays in a human body. The UPA government gave dreams to the people and even Rahul Gandhi had promised that work on the Zojila tunnels will be started soon, but all remain on papers only,' Zaffari said. Tsering Samphel, Congress candidate, is also reaching to the people with a promise of early construction and completion of the Zojila tunnels to have all-weather connectivity to the Ladakh region. Shortage of essential commodities The cold desert of the country is running short of essential commodities and goods due to closure of 434-km-long Srinagar-Leh road for the past six months There is no availability of fresh vegetables, fruits or other eatables. The shopkeepers are only able to offer goods and packed foods stocked about six to seven months ago The Leh-Srinagar highway, which was closed for traffic in November last year, is yet to be opened due to heavy accumulation of snowfall The Ladakh parliamentary segment, which spreads over 1.73 lakh sq km, making it the country's largest (area-wise) constituency, will go to the polls on May 7