Uttarkashi tunnel collapse | Efforts on to create escape route for trapped workers

The authorities said that one of the trapped workers in the Uttarkashi tunnel had fallen ill and medicines were sent to him via a pipe

November 14, 2023 10:47 am | Updated November 15, 2023 07:25 am IST - New Delhi

800-900 mm diameter MS pipes are inserted through the rubble inside Silkyara tunnel to prepare an escape passage for trapped workers on November 14, 2023 after a portion of an under-construction tunnel collapsed in Uttarakhand’s Uttarkashi district on November 12, 2023.

800-900 mm diameter MS pipes are inserted through the rubble inside Silkyara tunnel to prepare an escape passage for trapped workers on November 14, 2023 after a portion of an under-construction tunnel collapsed in Uttarakhand’s Uttarkashi district on November 12, 2023. | Photo Credit: PTI

The rescue operation to save the 40 labourers, who got trapped after a part of the under-construction tunnel collapsed in Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand, continued for the third consecutive day on November 14.

The technical experts, along with disaster management officials, are continuously removing the debris after which they will insert 900-mm diameter steel pipes through the rubble to create an escape passage for the workers. They are expected to be rescued by Wednesday, State Disaster Management Secretary Ranjeet Kumar Sinha said.

Members of rescue teams prepare to conduct a rescue operation on November 14, 2023 after a portion of an under-construction tunnel collapsed in Uttarakhand’s Uttarkashi district on November 12, 2023. Photo: Uttarakhand State Disaster Response Force via Reuters

Members of rescue teams prepare to conduct a rescue operation on November 14, 2023 after a portion of an under-construction tunnel collapsed in Uttarakhand’s Uttarkashi district on November 12, 2023. Photo: Uttarakhand State Disaster Response Force via Reuters

The 4,531-metre-long tunnel is being built by National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL) in partnership with Navayuga Engineering Company Ltd at a cost of ₹853.79crore. It is part of the Char Dham all-weather road project that aims to reduce the journey between Uttarkashi and Yamunotri town by 26 km.

A portion of this tunnel collapsed at Silkyara around 5.30 a.m. on Sunday.

Worker falls ill

The authorities said that one of the trapped workers had fallen ill and medicines were sent to him via a pipe. Those trapped are being provided with food and water through it.

Emotions ran high when Akash Singh Negi of Uttarakhand, spoke to his father G.S Negi, one of the 40 workers trapped inside the tunnel. “My nephew spoke to my brother through the pipe through which oxygen is being supplied to the trapped workers. He asked about his father’s health. He told his son that he is fine and will soon come out,” said Maharaj Singh Negi, uncle of Akash. The teen couldn’t hold back his tears after hearing from his father.

Meanwhile, a team of technical experts constituted by the Uttarakhand government under the chairmanship of Director, Uttarakhand Landslide Mitigation and Management Centre, to investigate the causes of landslip in Silkyara reached the spot on Tuesday. The team, which includes experts from institutions such as the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology (WIHG); Geological Survey of India (GSI); Central Building Research Institute (CBRI), Roorkee; and the Uttarakhand State Disaster Management Authority (USDMA), Dehradun, is surveying the tunnel and the hill above it.

Red flags

The environmentalists, who were part of the Supreme Court-appointed high-powered committee on the Char Dham all-weather road project, criticised the government for going ahead with the project, despite the ecological concerns raised by the them.

Geologist Navin Juyal told The Hindu that the area is fragile terrain because of its proximity to the Himalayas. The rocks there contain a lot of water. “When you are aligning a tunnel in an area that is very close to the highly fragile Himalayas, the authorities should have conducted some geological investigation. Then the fragility of this place should have been brought to the notice of the authorities,” said Mr. Juyal.

He said that if such a geological assessment wasn’t carried out, then the government and the authorities concerned had not complied with orders of the Supreme Court, which had maintained that no construction should take place in fragile Himalayas without proper scientific assessment.

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