With efforts to rescue the 41 workers trapped inside the under-construction Silkyara-Barkot tunnel in Uttarkashi since last Sunday undergoing several setbacks, authorities have come up with a five-point plan that involves drilling operations from three sides.
There will be a vertical drilling operation taking place from the top of the hill under which the workers are trapped. The efforts to drill horizontally through the debris blocking the tunnel at the Silkyara side will continue, and an operation to drill a small tunnel from the Barkot side will also begin, according to the plans.
Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari visited the spot on Sunday, along with Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami, and reviewed the rescue operations. Gadkari said that if the machines brought in for the drilling work properly, the workers would be rescued in two to three days. In the meantime, those trapped are safe and in good spirits, he said.
According to details provided by the government, five different agencies – the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), Sutluj Jal Vidyut Nigam (SJVNL), Rail Vikas Nigam Limited (RVNL), National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL), and Tehri Hydro Development Corporation Limited (THDCL) – have been assigned responsibilities to carry out the five different aspects of the rescue plan.
The Border Roads Organisation (BRO) has created an access road to, and built a platform at, the top of the hill where vertical drilling is set to take place. Under the five-point plan, RVNL has started work on a six-inch-wide vertical pipeline from this platform into the place where the workers are trapped. This pipe will work as another means by which supplies can be passed to them.
So far, the workers had been provided food items such as channa, murmure, dry fruits and medicines through a four-inch compressor pipeline. The NHIDCL is also creating another six-inch pipeline, which can provide the workers with more types of food, like bread, vegetables, rice, and other heavier meals. The vertical supply pipeline being built by RVNL will be in addition to these two horizontal ones.
Under the second part of the plan, SJVNL will drill a vertical tunnel from the top of the hill to rescue the trapped labourers. Accordingly, equipment has been mobilised from Gujarat and Odisha with the help of the Railways. ONGC, which has expertise in deep drilling, has also taken part in the initial work of drilling the vertical tunnel.
The third part of the plan involves horizontally drilling 483 metres to reach the workers by creating a “micro” tunnel from the Barkot side. This will be undertaken by THDCL. Heavy machinery has already been mobilised and the work is expected to start by Sunday night.
The fourth part is the strengthening of the existing tunnel, and after working on safety arrangements, NHIDCL will continue to drill from the Silkyara end under the fifth part of the plan.
During his visit, Gadkari said that if all goes right, the quickest way to rescue those trapped would be horizontal drilling from the Silkyara side. Addressing the media after his visit, Gadkari said there was ongoing communication with the workers, and that they were safe and in good spirits.
“Keeping up the morale of the trapped workers and their family members should be everyone’s collective responsibility at the moment,” he said.
Expressing hope that the workers would be rescued in the next two to three days if the augur machine drilling from the Silkyara side works properly, Gadkari said safety was a major priority.
The machine’s work had earlier been halted, he said, because it encountered tough material, but indicated that experts had resolved the issue and that the drilling process would commence again.
In the week since the tunnel collapse, several methods have been employed in a bid to rescue those trapped, including using large excavators to remove the debris and then trying to drill through the debris using different drilling machines.