On November 12th, while we woke up with a festive mood of Diwali, dreadful news from Uttarakhand surfaced. At around 5:30 AM, a 30-meter segment of the Uttarkashi-Yamunotri Tunnel collapsed, trapping forty labourers inside. As of now, none of the workers have gotten rescued, but thankfully, the concerned authorities have confirmed that the trapped workers (although suffering a sickening predicament) are alive.
For the last 48 hours and more, over 150 personnel from institutions like the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), State Disaster Response Force (SDRF), Indo-Tibetian Border Police (ITBP), and the Border Road Organisation (BRO) have been unrelenting in their pursuit to retrieve the trapped workers. The reason for the collapse is still under speculation as the authorities have refrained from making any tentative statement before the trapped labourers get safely liberated.
Despite repeated alerts and obstructions raised by environmentalists and locals, the government stays flabbergasted after the ‘fragile Himalayas’ gulped the labourers down.
What has happened?
The collapsed tunnel is a part of the Center’s ambitious “Char Dham All-weather Highway Project” undertaken by the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL). The collapsed structure is a part of the 4.5-kilometre double-lane tunnel, which is also the longest tunnel involved in this project.
The crashed site lies between Silkyara and Dandalgaon at 270 meters from the Sylkara end on the Brahmakhal-Yamunotri National Highway. As per the concerned authorities, around a 30-meter-portion of the tunnel came crashing down, keeping the workers (mostly migrant labourers) confined inside. The rescue teams have wasted no time in their travail, but they maintain how with every strike to open the trapped end, more debris falls and guards the tunnel.
The incident took place at a time of transition between the shift hours. The authorities were temporarily relieved after the trapped workers signalled their safety by turning on a water pump that lay beyond the collapsed segment of the tunnel.
The authority in charge has ascertained that the area where the workers lie trapped consists of a 500-meter space between its landslide area and its dead-end. Thus, the chance of them suffocating to death is rather low. However, the rescue team has been pumping oxygen into the trapped area through a water pipe to stay on the safe side. As identified by the District Emergency Operating Center, the trapped labourers are mostly migrants from Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, and Odisha.
The trapped workers have confirmed that they are safe:
On October 14th, the rescue workers began inserting 900-mm diameter sections of mild steel pipes through the rubble of the collapsed under-construction tunnel on the Chardham route to evacuate the trapped labourers. Oxygen, food, medicine, and other essential items are being provided to the trapped men with the help of other steel pipes.
After two long days, a connection was established between them and the rescue team, enabling some of the victims to talk to their family members. The son of a trapped labourer was allowed to speak to his father for a few seconds and revealed, “He (his father) said they were safe. He asked us not to worry.”
Uttarakhand’s Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami told reporters, “I am closely monitoring the situation. I visited the spot, and I also spoke to the family members of the people who were trapped inside. Food, water and oxygen are getting supplied to the people trapped inside. PM Modi is also closely monitoring the situation.”
The 850-kilometre Char Dham project, getting built at a staggering cost of Rs. 12,000 crores, seeks to connect the four Hindu shrines of Gangotri, Yamunotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath through a network of all-weather highways. This project also fosters strategic importance for the nation by offering a faster movement of troops and military equipment to the border with China.
The 4.5-kilometre tunnel is being constructed at the cost of Rs. 853.79 crore! With just 500 meters left for the completion of the tunnel, which was scheduled to end in February 2024, this disaster at the fag has poured cold water over it. Touch wood as we pray that the trapped workers get safely evacuated and return to their families in good health.