Thursday, February 29, 2024

Tunnel Rescue Mission Successful


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The country watched in dismay as the 41 workers trapped inside Uttarakhand’s Silkyara tunnel for over 17 days lived there between hope and despair and their poor families waited outside in vain hope of seeing their loved ones emerge from that tunnel. Finally, several agencies pooled in their resources to finally allow the workers to see the light of day. The quest for livelihoods in this country pushes people to undertake the most daunting tasks. Union minister VK Singh and Uttarakhand CM Pushkar Singh Dhami welcomed the workers as they were brought out through a steel chute that lined a 60-metre escape passage. It is interesting that the very rat-hole mining technique adopted by coal mine owners in Jharkhand and Meghalaya became the life saver bringing to an end the 17-day ordeal. The rescue operation involved multiple plans the first of which was to drill through the debris from the mouth of the tunnel. Machines were used to drill through but after several setbacks, the last resort adopted was to use rat hole miners from Jharkhand.
Plan B was to drill vertically through the hill above the tunnel. But this meant having to drill 86 meters down to reach the workers. The work had in fact started and the rescuers calculated it would take four days for the operation if they met no obstacles. Special drills had been brought to the site for this. But these were not needed. It was when the heavy machinery broke down that the authorities called in a group of people whose profession is effectively banned in the country – “rat-hole mining.” When the augur machines had dug horizontally through nearly three-quarters of the debris the half a dozen miners reach the trapped workers. The “rat hole miners” began working late on Monday with 15 metres out of 60 metres still left to reach the trapped men. They worked in two teams of three each, with one person drilling, the second collecting the debris and the third pushing it out of the pipe.
These rescuers finally pulled out the workers in wheeled stretchers through a wide pipe that was pushed through the debris after a 17-day ordeal. India is known for its ‘jugaad’ , the genius of the ordinary Indian which often surprises even the most learned scientists. Now of course there will be many to take credit for this successful rescue operation. The question that needs to be asked, and pointedly so, is why there was no environmental clearance assessment vis a vis the construction of this tunnel along the young and unstable Himalayan fold mountains. Why the need to tamper with the fragile environment despite so many environmentally catastrophic accidents? This question demands an answer or several answers.


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