The 434-km strategic Srinagar-Leh national highway was reopened for vehicular traffic on Thursday in a record time of 68 days after its closure in January this year following heavy snowfall, officials said.
A trial movement was conducted successfully and the decision to reopen the road for civilian traffic will be taken after a joint inspection by the civil administrations of the Union Territories of Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir.
The highway was thrown open for traffic at the Zojila Pass, situated at an altitude of 11,650 feet, by Director General of Border Roads Organisation (BRO) Lt Gen Rajeev Chaudhary.
Zojila is a strategic pass that provides a vital link between Kashmir Valley and Ladakh, and it is key to operational preparedness of the armed forces. It used to remain closed for about six months due to heavy snowfall. However, over the last few years, the BRO has been reopening it in less time. This year, it was cleared off in record time of 68 days.
Speaking to reporters, Lt Gen Chaudhary said the opening of the pass has a lot of significance both from the strategic point of view as well as socio-economic point of view.
"The people of Ladakh used to remain cut off for about five-six months, but the BRO has been opening this route earlier than usual and the people can go to Srinagar for their needs or medical emergencies or even trade and commerce, he said.
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He said the reopening of the pass will given an economic push to the region.
"Tourism also opens up because of the opening of this route, and the people of Kargil, Drass and Leh benefit a lot from the opening of this route," he said.
He said the central government also benefits a lot because of its reopening.
"For maintaining our forces deployed in Ladakh, all the supplies have to be sent by air, for which about Rs 7 crore are spent daily. We have done a calculation that we can save Rs 400-450 crore, which otherwise has to be spent for this maintenance, by reopening the road sooner, he said.
The BRO DG said the highway was kept open till January 6 this year, after which it was closed for traffic following heavy snowfall.
"The pass was open till January 6. In February, we took a decision to start clearance work on it, but keeping in mind the safety of the workers. So, we undertook the operation and in a systematic manner, cleared off the snow. Today, the traffic has started to ply on this. It has now been re-opened in record time. This is a huge achievement, he said.
Earlier, people used to think about reopening the route in the month of May. But over the last few years, the road has been reopened earlier than that. "Next year, we will try to reopen it sooner than this," he added.
Lt Gen Chaudhary said with the reopening of the Zojilla pass, we can easily move machinery, tanks, guns, etc. if and whenever we need...so that it reaches the forces deployed in Ladakh".
"This is the only route which connects Ladakh with the rest of the country. The Leh-Manali route is not open yet, he said.
The pass will be reopened for civilian traffic in the next few days after assessing the road conditions and the safety issue, he added.
A civilian, Bakir Ali, said the population living on both sides of the pass was happy with its reopening.
"The pass has been thrown open sooner than earlier years. As the holy month of Ramzan is about to start, it is great that this route has been thrown open and will enable the people to take care of their daily needs. We can now bring in fresh fruits, vegetables, etc., Ali said.
The BRO has been breaking its own records when it comes to the reopening of the pass. The road was thrown open in 110 days in 2021, in 78 days in 2022 and in just 68 days this year.