Centre eyes Kashmiri hearts through tourist infra push

Centre eyes to win Kashmiri hearts through tourist infrastructure push

Gadkari said projects worth Rs 2 lakh crore were expected to be completed in J&K and Ladakh by 2024

Plain clothes police women take selfies at the Zojila tunnel which connects Srinagar to Ladakh. Credit: AFP Photo

The Centre is giving a big push to tourism-related infrastructure projects in Jammu & Kashmir, making access to the Himalayan region easier all year round in a bid to win hearts of the locals ahead of the Lok Sabha elections in 2024.

Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari, on a two-day visit to the union territory, on Tuesday announced a slew of projects – from building bus terminals, improving roadside amenities, developing ropeways and funicular railways to make scenic locations in the high Himalayas accessible to tourists.

Gadkari said projects worth Rs 2 lakh crore were expected to be completed in J&K and Ladakh by 2024.

Gadkari drove through the ‘Z-Morh’ tunnel near here that grants all-weather access to Sonamarg, which otherwise remains cut-off from the rest of the country for five to six months due to heavy snowfall during winters.

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The excavation work on the 6.5 km long ‘Z-Morh’ tunnel and the escape has been completed. It is expected to be opened for use by June next year.

Reviewing the work on the 14.15 km long Zoji La Tunnel here, Gadkari also set a target of December 2023 for the completion of the ambitious project from the 2026 deadline set earlier. He said the Zoji La Tunnel could be thrown open for use on January 26, 2024.

“We have Lok Sabha elections in 2024 and have to showcase our achievements in J&K across the country,” the minister said, adding that there would be no compromise on the quality of the work to achieve the stiff targets.

The Zoji La tunnel is expected to cut the travel time from Baltal in Jammu & Kashmir to Minamarg near Drass in Ladakh from the present three-and-a-half hours to just 15 minutes, Gadkari said.

Also Read | Kashmir remains safe destination for foreign tourists, NCRB data shows

He said the government was doing every effort to attract more tourists to Jammu & Kashmir, which he said was more scenic and beautiful than Switzerland.

The minister said he was exploring the use of ropeways and funicular railways to make the high mountain regions accessible to tourists.

“The next three years could see a five-time increase in tourism in J&K,” Gadkari said, adding that new highways would reduce the travel time from Jammu to Srinagar from the present nine hours to just three hours.

He said he had asked the J&K administration to start hotel management institutes in the region to train the workforce required for the hospitality sector.

Elections to the legislative assembly of the union territory of J&K are expected to be held after the completion of the delimitation exercise. 

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