Uttarkashi rescue: The men in the tunnel, waiting for the light | India News


Fifteen from Jharkhand, eight from Uttar Pradesh, five each from Odisha and Bihar, three from West Bengal, two each from Uttarakhand and Assam, and one from Himachal Pradesh – the men trapped inside the Uttarkashi tunnel may have come from different states, but what united them was the need to venture out in search of a livelihood.

Those working there fall in two salary brackets: Rs 24,000 for skilled workers, pump operators or drillers; and Rs 18,000 for unskilled workers such as labourers or helpers. According to their relatives, the men work 12 hours a day, seven days a week, and can take two days leave in a month.

The Indian Express spoke to their families, who have spent the last 10 days crippled with anxiety but holding on to hope:


Among the five from the state, Bisweswar Nayak (38), who hails from Jogibandh village in Mayurbhanj district, has been working as a labourer in tunnel construction for 22 years.

Father to twin daughters aged six, Bisweswar joined work four months ago along with a few others from his locality. His wife Sukanti said she last spoke to her husband a day before the mishap. “He is our support system. The entire family was in shock but we got confidence after we listened to his voice recording.”

Festive offer
uttarakhand tunnel On-going rescue operation at the Silkyara-Barkot tunnel in Uttarakhand on Tuesday, November 21, 2023. (Express photo by Chitral Khambhati)

A resident of Bedhakudar in Mayurbhanj district, Dhiren Nayak (40) and three others from his village left for Uttarakhand in July to earn a livelihood. A father to three kids, he told his wife he would return on Makar Sankranti, which falls in January. “My mother and siblings are traumatised. We appeal to the government to help us reach out to him,” said Subham Keshari Nayak, his elder son.

Like his co-workers from Mayurbhanj district, Raju Nayak (25), from Kuldiha village, had promised his parents he would return on Makar Sankranti, a major festival in the tribal-dominated district. His father Muchiram said though they have faith in the rescuers, workers need to be pulled out as early as possible. “My son has decided to go to far-off places to earn a livelihood as there were no opportunities here. We appeal to the state government to facilitate jobs here so the youth can stay with their families.”

uttarakhand tunnel

Second eldest of four siblings, Bhagban Bhatra (28) from Talabeda village in Nabarangpur district has been engaged in tunnel construction work for the last 18 months. He had gone there along with five relatives.

He lost his mother several years ago, and his father has a mental disability. The lack of adequate jobs had also forced Bhagban’s younger brother to migrate to Tamil Nadu for work. Phulchand Bhatra, Bhagwan’s cousin, said they came to know about Bhagban being tapped inside the tunnel on Wednesday, four days after the incident, after one of the co-workers informed them.

Tapan Mandal (21), a resident of Bhadrak district, went to Uttarakhand in June to work alongside his elder brother Sapan and a cousin. He was on the night shift and was returning to the base when the tunnel collapsed.

Tapan’s uncle Jhuntu said: “Both Sapan and Ajay are trying to speak to Tapan through the pipes and sending us voice recordings from Uttarakhand.


From a single tribal-majority village, Khirabera in Ranchi district, nine people had gone to work at the tunnel, and three got stuck inside. Their families said they were informed about the situation by the other six.

The three – Anil Bediya, Rajender Bediya, and Sukram Bediya – are residents of a state that has the most number of men trapped inside – 16.

“I had told him not to go, but he didn’t heed my advice,” said Parvati Devi, Sukram’s mother. With jobs scarce in the area they’re from, many young men from the village go outside for work. Rajender’s father Shravan Bediya said his son had not even told him where he was going when he left on November 1.

Anil had left the village in search of work in the summer, said his father Chakru Bediya. His brother has gone to the spot to check up on him.

Also among those trapped are two residents of Simradhab panchayat in Giridih district, Vishwajeet Verma and Subodh Kumar Verma. An uncle who lives in Rishikesh has been keeping the family abreast with the developments.

uttarakhand tunne On Monday, the “first breakthrough” of the evacuation efforts was achieved when a six-inch pipe to supply essential commodities successfully reached the workers. (Express photo by Chitral Khambhati)

Gonodhar Nayak and Samir Nayak are two of several people working on the tunnel from Manikpur village in East Singhbhum district. When they both got trapped, it was the others from Manikpur who first informed the family.

Three people from Khunti district’s Larta Panchayat are also trapped – Vijay Horo, Ganpati Horo, and Chamra Oraon. Ganpati was working inside the tunnel with his brother, Bilkan, who got out before the collapse.

Chamra had gone to work at the tunnel in October, said his nephew Sukram Oraon, adding that he didn’t contact his family often as he didn’t have a phone.

From Chelabeda village of West Singhbhum, Mahadev Nayak is one of the few who had his voice recorded from inside the tunnel and sent to his family. The audio recording brought great relief to his ageing parents and four siblings, the family said.

Uttar Pradesh

Of the right trapped workers from the state, six are from Shravasti and one each from Lakhimpur and Mirzapur districts. The families of some have left for the site.

It was in August that a group of 20 people, mostly residents of Motipur Kala village in Shravasti, went to Uttarkashi in search of work.

The six trapped men are residents of the same village and all belong to the Tharu community, a Scheduled tribe. The village is around 12 km from the border with Nepal, and residents often go to Mumbai, Gujarat and Uttarakhand for work.

The six have been identified as Ram Milan (41), Satya Dev (46), Ankit Kumar (22), Jai Prakash (23), Santosh Kumar (24) and Ram Sundar (27). Except for Santosh and Jai Prakash, the others are married. This was the first time Santosh, Jai Prakash and Ankit had left the district for work.

Satyadev’s wife Ramrati Devi said they came to know about the incident from other men working at the site. Their two sons are in class 9.

Ram Milan’s wife Suneeta Devi said, “I spoke to him a few hours before he went inside. My brother-in-law Mahesh has gone to Uttarkashi and is giving us updates.”

Santosh Kumar’s uncle Ram Kartar said the family did not want him to leave the village, “but he insisted so we let him go”. Ram Sunder’s wife Sheela Devi said no government official has confirmed when the men would come out.

The other two labourers from UP trapped in the tunnel are Akhilesh Kumar from Mirzapur and Manjeet from Lakhimpur Kheri.


The two men from the state, Sanjay Basumatary and Ram Prasad Narzary, are from the same village, Ramphalbil in Kokrajhar district. They, along with another worker from the same village, Jyotish Basumatary, who is Sanjay’s elder brother, have been working at the project in Uttarakhand for the last seven months. They have not been home since.

Jyotish said that both the men are around 35 years old. Through their work, Jyotish and Sanjay support their widowed mother.

Back home, Ram Prasad’s parents, his wife and teenaged daughter are an anxious lot.

While Jyotish is also a worker in the project, he was not on duty when the tunnel collapsed. “The incident then took place just before their duty was about to get over. I have spoken to them three times since then,” he told The Indian Express from Uttarakhand on Monday. “They said that they are fine but that their heads are feeling heavy.”

uttarakhand tunnel The ongoing operations to rescue the 41 workers trapped inside the Silkyara-Barkot tunnel in Uttarakhand’s Uttarkashi entered Day 10 on Tuesday. (Express photo by Chitral Khambhati)

Himachal Pradesh

In Himachal Pradesh’s Mandi, the family of 20-year-old Vishal has been spending sleepless nights. His father Dharam Singh and elder brother Yogesh reached the site on November 13, and have been camping there since.

At his village of Bagot, all 200-odd houses are praying for his return. “It happened on Diwali. The news spread like wildfire and villagers didn’t celebrate,” said Devinder Sharma, a resident.

Vishal’s mother Urmila, say relatives, has hardly eaten since the incident.

Vishal joined the construction company about five months ago and his elder brother Yogesh also works with the same firm. “This was his new job; he wanted to focus on work, so he remained there on Diwali,” Devinder said.

West Bengal

“How long should I wait? It’s been 9-10 days I haven’t heard my son’s voice,” said Lokhi Pathira (44), mother of Soubhik Pakhira (24), who joined this work 10 months ago.

“He had day duty for two consecutive days, but someone left for their hometown so he was assigned night duty as his replacement,” said Shoubhik’s mother.

In Coochbehar district, 51-year-old Manik Talukdar’s family has stopped watching news or updates on mobile as it’s adding to their anxiety. It was on TV that they first discovered what had happened, and Manik’s wife Soma has been holding on to his photo ever since.

Manik had gone to work as senior electrician, and has been with the company since 2007. “We knew something was off when he didn’t call on Sunday morning,” Moni said.

Another worker, Joydeb Pramanik (18), is from Hooghly’s Pursurah. He joined the company last year.


Bhojpur resident Sabah Ahmad last spoke to his family on November 11, a day before he got trapped. His wife, Sheeba, is yet to be contacted by the authorities. She and their three children live in Piyar village. Sabah’s father Misbah Ahmad (70) said the family is dependent on the media for news about him, and was relieved to know the trapped men were getting food. Sabah left the state in search of work five years ago.

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Others from Bihar are Khajuan resident Sonu Sah, and Birendra Kisku, whose family lives in Jaypur Tetaria village in Banka district. The latter works as a poclain driver.

The family of the fourth man from Bihar, Sushil Kumar, has reached the site, worried about his well being.

Reporting by Abhishek Angad, Manish Sahu, Raakhi Jagga, Santosh Singh, Sujit Kumar Bisoyi, Sukrita Baruah, Sweety Kumari


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