Jammu/Gurez: The Centre will construct a 9 km-long tunnel on the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway to improve the connectivity of several villages with the only road-link to Kashmir Valley.

The construction of Chenani-Nashri Tunnel, longest in the route, in Udhampur district is expected to cost around Rs 2,519 crore and will be completed in five years.

The foundation stone of the 2-lane tunnel will be laid on Monday by the Union Road and Transport Minister C P Joshi. The work on the four laning of the national highway will also begin on Monday, officials said in Jammu.

"In order improve connectivity between Jammu and Srinagar along with other sections of the Valley, the highway will have a 9-km tunnel to reduce the distance and travel time," an official said. 2.5 km-long Jawahar tunnel, between Banihal and Qazigund, is currently the longest tunnel on the highway.

Meanwhile, inaugurating a tourism festival in Gurez, 120 km north of Srinagar, Omar Abdullah on Sunday said he would take up with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh the construction of tunnels to link far flung and hilly areas with the mainland.

"We will take up the issue of boring of various tunnels with Prime Minister as accessibility is pre-requisite for development of hilly and remote areas of the state (which usually remain cut off due to heavy snowfall during winter)," he said.

"Construction of tunnels and dependable road connectivity is essentially important to help link up backward areas with main highways and ensure integrated development and generation of economic activities in these areas," he said.

Omar said regular helicopter service for such areas is also necessary to assure the connection of these areas with the rest of the country especially during winter. "This issue stands taken up with the central government."

He said his government has paid attention to the development of good roads focusing on construction of intra-district and intra-regional roads to make necessary dent in this regard. "We have already received liberal financial support from the Central Government for many road projects and our endeavour will be to seek further Central help for the purpose."

Omar, the first Chief Minister who drove from Srinagar to Dawer in Gurez by road, said "I have witnessed the road condition from Bandipora to this place myself".

"The purpose behind my visiting Gurez by road was to assess the condition of the road and get first hand appraisal of development works by interacting with the people at various places," he said adding the natural beauty of Gurez needed to be showcased for global tourism.

However, he stressed on protecting the environment and ecology of the area at any cost. Omar asked the executing agency of Kishan-Ganga power project to ensure employment to non-skilled youth of the area.

The Chief Minister also inaugurated tourist complex at Dawer and granted Rs 15 lakh under Paying Guest Scheme for the intending locals for construction of tourist accommodation in 'Kanzwan' area.

(Agencies)