Julius Caesar when marched into Gaul and made it a Roman territory, he famously said, “It is better to create than to learn! Creating is the essence of life.” The IL&FS Transportation Networks Ltd. (ITNL) must have thought the same way when the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) awarded them the Chenani-Nashri Tunnel project in 2011. It decided to be a pioneer rather than a follower. The project was an ultra-marathon effort. 2.1 million man days of intensive work; meticulous craftsmanship through a team of over 100 engineers; after 5 years and 6 months of hardships and challenges, one big mission was accomplished – India’s, in fact, South East Asia’s longest ‘Smart’ tunnel highway between Chenani and Nashri was inaugurated on 2nd April 2017 by our Honourable Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi.

Located at an elevation of 1200 metres, from the sea level, with an overburden of up to 1 km in a difficult Himalayan Geology, the 10.8 kms, having 9 km long tunnel project was acclaimed as an ‘Engineering marvel’ by experts. The fully integrated two lane bi-directional tunnel, will reduce the distance between the two capital cities by 31 kms thereby saving a huge fuel cost to the tune of One Billion Rupees per year (INR 27 lakhs per day approximately).

“This is one of the greatest accomplishments done by the IL&FS Group and our path to success will keep us moving forward to undertake more such mega infrastructure projects. Managing adverse conditions, both technical and non-technical, has again proven the resilience of the combined efforts of the several IL&FS entities like ITNL, IFIN and Nalanda to successfully complete this project.”
- Mr. K. Ramchand, Managing Director, IL&FS Transportation Networks Limited (ITNL)


NH 1-A – The road it was…
Until 2011, the highway in this section, especially from Chenani to Nashri remained closed for approximately 40-50 days a year due to bad weather conditions. Landslides, elevated roads and hairpin bends posed ruthless challenges for drivers and was considered a killer highway. More than 100 people lost their lives every year in road accidents between Udampur and Ramban districts. Besides the unsafe road condition, the unruly weather made travelling this route a nightmare of sorts. With the two districts now connected through the fully integrated tunnel with transverse ventilation system that can withstand all weather throughout the year, it provides a big sigh of relief to around 8 million people in the Valley.

The new architecture
Bagging the contract, ITNL decided to do this with a new approach. The overall project involved design and construction of a 9 kms long main tunnel (2 lanes) with a parallel escape tunnel (9 kms), two minor bridges on the South and North sides and a 4-lane approach road with toll plazas on both ends of the tunnel. The two tubes (Main tunnel and Escape tunnel) are internally connected through 29 “cross-passages” provided at an interval of 300 metres.

“This is the only project where a 19-km tunnel highway was completed in a four-year time, with an average progress of 400m/month which is a record in Himalayan geology, with NATM. Nowhere in the world was a project of this stature at a similar geology ever done. This project is simply a mind-boggling and monumental effort from our team.” says Mr. Ashutosh Chandwar, Vice President, ITNL, citing the achievement of his team.

“Our engineers worked 16 hours a day. Major portion of the thought process and inputs in architectural design was provided by Indians and therefore it is a ‘Make-in-India’ tunnel. The tunnel is completely manned through a software and there is no need for someone to physically man the tunnel, hence we term it as a ‘Smart’ tunnel.” adds Mr. Chandwar.

Why is it a ‘Smart’ Tunnel?
The ‘Smart tunnel’ or the ‘intelligent tunnel’ as it is being called, saves time and reduces the efforts of mankind thereby creating an impact for the society at large. Besides being a completely safe route for all weather conditions, the construction of the tunnel has helped the state save its forestation and plantation. Reduction in traffic and maintenance activities in the region will help preserve the ecology and environment and in turn address the issues of global warming.

The two-lane bi-directional traffic tunnel is equipped with transverse Ventilation systems duly integrated using Integrated Tunnel Controlling System, along with many first-of-its-kind facilities in India that ensure seamless movement of traffic. Some of the key features of the tunnel are:

  • Dynamic signalling system
  • Height control system
  • Automatic barrier system
  • CCTV Surveillance system
  • Automatic incident detection system (AID)
  • Emergency call System (SOS posts)
  • Fire detection system
  • Ventilation system
  • System monitoring and control
  • Communications network  
  • Control Centre
  • Computer application of centralised management.

Union Road & Transport Minister Shri Nitin Gadkari described this project by ITNL as a ‘State-of-the-art project’ and a ‘revolutionary step’ in Indian engineering.

“There are two key reasons for the success of this project. One, we had given the due respect to the geology and did not try to do anything that was against Nature. Two, we utilised local resources – upto 90% of the workforce - and seldom used any shortcut to get our work done for this project." Mr. S. C. Mittal, Chief Executive, ITNL, said about the key attributes for the success of this project.

Technology impact

Technology played a key role in making rapid progress in the project. Here are the top five innovative technologies used in this project:

  1. Use of automatic navigated boomer (first time in India) for drilling
  2. Use of poly fibre/steel fibre shotcrete replacing traditional Wire mesh system
  3. Probing (drilling up to 12 m advance at face) of tunnel
  4. Deformation monitoring results to optimise support
  5. Unique electro-mechanical design and implementation.

The ‘Maths’ behind the ‘Marvel’

Just as the project was hailed for ‘Engineering Marvel,’ the Fund Flow Management of this project had already created a new benchmark in the industry almost unnoticeably. The efficiency with which the ‘moolah’ were mobilised that too with the optimum leverage of debt-to-equity-ratio (9:1) deserves a special mention, for a project of this magnitude, and can easily become a case study by itself. The project was completed at the overall cost of Rs. 3720 crores, of which, Rs. 3,348 crores (90%) was funded through a consortium of 15 banks led by State Bank of India and the balance Rs. 372 crores (10%) was financed through the equity portion. The 90% debt portion was further broken into senior debt (80%) and sub-ordinate debt (10%) thereby significantly improving the equity IRR (Internal Rate of Return) for ITNL.

"The Chenani-Nashri Tunnel holds prime importance for the people of Jammu and Kashmir and is a gateway to development for the state. The execution of this difficult project has successfully been achieved with the excellent management skills of IL&FS Transportation Networks Ltd. (ITNL) Team. IL&FS Financial Services (IFIN) is proud to have engineered the financing of such a magnanimous project through an innovative financial structuring."
- Mr. Ramesh C. Bawa, Managing Director & CEO, IL&FS Financial Services Limited (IFIN)

IL&FS Financial Services Limited (IFIN) took the responsibility of organising funds for this magnum opus. While the agreement for ITNL was to develop and handover the project back to NHAI with an annuity payment system, it was IFIN that decided to leverage the annuity model and went for 9:1 debt-equity ratio, which is unheard of for a project of this magnitude.

“Though ITNL enjoys a strong reputation for project execution capabilities, raising Project Finance was challenging on two counts. One, the construction complexities attached with the project site due to the Himalayan terrain, and the other being the long gestation period of five years in Jammu and Kashmir State which is exposed to difficult climatic and ground conditions. In fact, these challenges gave us a clear direction to focus on raising the initial Project Finance from local Indian Banks, who supported the project wholeheartedly. Technical experts were invited to address the apprehensions of the bankers through video presentations on the proposed technology for tunnel boring and direct site visit arrangements were also made.” explains Mr. Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Chief Operating Officer, Debt Structuring & Distribution, IL&FS Financial Services.

ITNL was one of the first few developers to enjoy the sustainable leverage of 9:1 debt-equity ratio. However, what stood apart for ITNL was the sheer magnitude of the project and the ability to complete the project on time.

Off-shore funding

Convincing banks at the initial stage of the project was a task by itself, especially when there is a consortium of 15 banks involved. SBI alone took three months to understand the nature of the project and the risks involved in it. Eventually it became the lead bank with a loan of Rs. 800 crores. IFIN also managed to rope in off-shore funding as well through Standard Chartered Bank, which extended an ECB facility of USD 40 million.

“The Project represents a strategic stretch of road connecting remote parts of the Kashmir Valley to the rest of India. SCB acted as the MLA for the ECB Facility, and also provided hedging solutions to manage the interest and FX risk on the USD loan. The financing was structured as a non-recourse lending, predicated substantially on the Project’s cash flows emanating from the fixed annuity payments by NHAI, post completion of the Project.” – Mr. Prasad Hegde, Executive Director, Standard Chartered Bank.

Fighting against all odds

Geographically, Kashmir is a volatile state. One could see the turmoil and turbulence throughout the valley for almost the entire year. Working in immature rocks and geological uncertainty in the Himalayan terrain was a huge challenge. Taking the challenges head-on, ITNL used a probabilistic approach and opted for a modern tunnel design - the New Austrian Tunnel Method (NATM) rather than Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM); this paid rich dividends.

There was an unprecedented snowfall in 2012 (the Valley never witnessed in 100 years); heavy floods in 2015 halted the logistics operations in the terrain for almost a year. Despite all these challenges, the project continued for 24x365 days for five years and ITNL takes great pride in saying that there was not a single incident at the work site and ‘zero’ loss time due to injury at this project.

Societal upliftment

Off goes a proverb, “There is no greater joy than to make a fundamental difference in someone’s life.” When the Chenani-Nashri project was undertaken, there were a number of surrounding villages in the catchment area that required societal upliftment in some area or the other. IL&FS did not wait for the engineering project to complete to provide the humanitarian help to the local community. In fact, the yeomen service started as early as 2012 and some of its social projects continue till date, adding value in many people’s lives.

The term catchment area of the tunnel has been used as an economic boundary. In a way, the influence area of the tunnel includes all those villages and towns whose economy or livelihood of the people were dependent, to some degree, on the commercial establishments and economic activities along the national highway between Chenani and Nashri.

To understand the social catchment and the status of socio-economic conditions of the community in the influence areas, IL&FS conducted a detailed study on ‘Comprehensive Socio‐Economic Assessment of Chenani-Nashri‐Tunnel Catchment Area (J&K)’ through the Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development (CRRID).

Based on the need analysis and demand from the local community, the CSR interventions under the name ‘Parivartan’ (meaning Change) was started. The activities under ‘Parivartan’ comprised of social welfare programmes in education, health, skill training, rural infrastructure, and livelihood which impacted the lives of thousands of people in the catchment areas.

10 things you must know about the new lifeline of J&K

  1. India's first and the world's sixth tunnel with fully transverse ventilation system
  2. Interconnected tubes between Main and Escape Tunnel to be used in times of distress
  3. Sensors installed to maintain the air quality, visibility and auto ventilation
  4. 100% waterproof tubes, or complete dry tunnel
  5. Reduction in travel time between Jammu and Srinagar by two hours
  6. India’s first fully integrated controlled Tunnel
  7. Equipped with world-class fire safety measures
  8. No loss of mobile phone connectivity
  9. SOS boxes with basic first-aid kit and essential medicines
  10. 124 Incident Detection cameras installed for surveillance.

Execution of the Chenani-Nashri Tunnel in the record time with the efforts of various governments, ITNL, IFIN, Banks and Financial Institutions, technology partners and the people of the state will not only change the face of the road section in Jammu & Kashmir, but will also provide the backbone for cultural exchange, social equality and a boosting of the economy. The tunnel has created a wide web of work opportunities and a network of communications and hence it has been crowned as the ‘Tunnel of Hope’!

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