In a first major breakthrough in nine days, agencies working round the clock to rescue the 41 workers trapped in an under-construction tunnel at Silkyara in Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand have managed to install a six-inch pipe into the 53-metre-long debris on Monday. The pipe will help in supplying nutritious food to the trapped workers and in having better communication with them.
Briefing the media, Anshu Mansish Khalkho, Director of the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL), the agency heading the tunnel construction as part of the all-weather road project, said that till now only a four-inch pipeline remained the lifeline for the trapped workers as they were being provided with raw food through that.
“After a six-inch pipeline has been laid across the debris, we have a second lifeline. It will be convenient to send large-sized materials, food items, medicines and other essential equipment as well as communication equipment to the workers. This will boost their confidence,” Mr. Khalkho said.
The placement of a second lifeline inside the tunnel came on a day when Arnold Dix, president of International Tunnelling Underground Space, reached the site to help the authorities in the rescue operations. He said the agencies working in Silkyara were doing a great job.
District Magistrate, Uttarkashi, Abhishek Ruhela said the administration would send food materials to the trapped workers after consulting doctors.
In the race against time, the rescue mission involves ‘micro tunnelling’. Experts are now weighing on multiple options, which include exploring the possibility of vertical drilling in the mountain, excavating two escape channels/tunnels on both sides of the Silkyara tunnel, digging a tunnel from the Barkot side and continuing with the previous method of pushing pipes via an auger boring machine.
In the first strategy, horizontal boring is to be done by the NHIDCL from the Silkyara end through the American auger boring machine.
The first machine of Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam (SJVN) for the construction of the vertical rescue tunnel has already reached the site and operations are being commenced post completion of access road by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO). Movement of two other machines for the vertical tunnel construction started from Gujarat and Odisha by road.
“Work on construction of a rescue tunnel of 480 metres from the Barkot end has commenced and machinery for micro-tunneling by the Rail Vikas Nigam Limited [RVNL] through horizontal drilling are being transported from Nashik and Delhi,” says a communique issued by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways.
Also, machinery for vertical boring are being mobilised by the ONGC from the U.S.A., Mumbai and Ghaziabad.
“The BRO has done a commendable work when an approach road for vertical drilling of RVNL and SJVNL has been constructed within 48 hours. Now work is continuing for an approach road for the ONGC also,” the release said.
The Uttarakhand government on Monday announced to bear all the expenses of the families of trapped workers who are travelling from their native States to the spot. Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami said the work of evacuating the workers was going on at a fast pace. He said Prime Minister Narendra Modi also took stock of the rescue operations over the phone.