From desperation to relief: Uttarkashi's Silkyara tunnel witnesses miraculous rescue of 41 workers

The 41 labourers were stranded after a portion of the Silkyara tunnel on the Silkyara-Dandalgaon route, being built to facilitate the Chardham Yatra route, collapsed on November 12 on Diwali day.
Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami greets rescued workers coming out of the collapsed Silkyara Tunnel. (Photo | Special Arrangement)
Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami greets rescued workers coming out of the collapsed Silkyara Tunnel. (Photo | Special Arrangement)

DEHRADUN: All the 41 workers trapped in the Silkyara tunnel in Uttarakhand's Uttarkashi district have been rescued by rescue teams after 16 days of hard work and the expertise of top experts and scientists from 19 leading institutions of the country.

A portion of the under-construction 4.5-km tunnel of Silkyara-Dandalgaon in Uttarkashi had collapsed during a landslide in the early hours of November 12, the day of Diwali. After this, 41 workers were trapped there when they were about to get out of the tunnel to prepare for the festival. "Due to the festival of Diwali, the rest of the workers had left earlier, otherwise the number of laborers there is usually close to 400", rescued labourers said.

For the relief work that has been going on for the past fortnight, oil and natural gas corporation (ONGC), Sutlej Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited (SJVNL), Rail Vikas Nigam Limited (RVNL), National Highway Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL) and Teri Hydro Development Corporation Limited (THDCL) were assigned specific responsibilities under the joint aegis of the Centre and the Uttarakhand government.

Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami said, "The government will give financial assistance of Rs One lakh each to all the workers trapped in the Silkyara tunnel". For this, the officials have been instructed to make full arrangements for treatment in the hospital and going home.

"All the workers trapped in the tunnel have been admitted to the hospital. The government will bear the cost of their treatment. Additionally, arrangements are being made for the food and lodging of family members and workers," he added. 

Making another special announcement on the occasion, Dhami said, "With the grace of Baba Boukhanag and Devbhoomi's gods and goddesses, the operation has been successful". A grand temple of The Bauknag Devta will be built in Silkyara. For this, necessary instructions have been given to the officials.

The tunnel, which is being constructed under the supervision of the National Highway Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL), had to recall its general manager Colonel Deepak Patil, who was transferred from Silkiara in late October.

Colonel Deepak Patil, in-charge of the rescue team, told The New Indian Express, "A team of 'rat miners' specialising in the job was finally engaged in the operation after the Auger machine got stuck inside the tunnel on November 26". The Army assisted this special team in this work. 'Rat Miners' is a team of experts who specialize in high-speed excavation.

"Manual drilling and excavation using rat-hole mining method began on Monday to rescue 41 workers trapped in Uttarkashi's Silkiara tunnel for 16 days", people familiar with the matter said, adding that "six rat-hole mining experts have been deployed for rescue operations".

According to highly placed official sources, "Bernard Gruppe, a German-Austrian engineering consultancy hired by the Indian company building the tunnel, had stated in August that since 'the start of tunnel driving, the geological conditions have proved to be more challenging than specified in the tender document.' It is not clear why an 'escape passage' approved for the tunnel in 2018 had not been built until the time when the tunnel collapsed."

Although government officials say that a detailed investigation will reveal what caused the part of tunnel to collapse, there is a lot of speculation. One of them is that it collapsed due to a landslide in the fragile Himalayan region. Several experts have pointed out that hasty development in the ecologically sensitive area was responsible for the incident.

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The New Indian Express