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Silkyara Tunnel Breakthrough: Lifeline Extended to Trapped Workers

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Entrance of the Silkyara Road Tunnel (Credit: France24)

Breakthrough in Silkyara Tunnel Rescue Operation

In a significant development, a six-inch diameter, 53-meter-long pipe has been successfully inserted into the Silkyara tunnel in Uttarkashi, providing a crucial lifeline for the 41 trapped workmen. Anshu Manish Khalkho, Director of the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL), stated that this breakthrough would enhance the trapped workers’ access to better food, increased airflow, and other necessities. This achievement follows a previous attempt, which encountered complications due to a fresh mud collapse. The insertion of a four-inch diameter pipe had aided in supplying air and sustenance, and now, with the deployment of trenchless tunnelling technology, a larger, six-inch diameter pipe promises more substantial nourishment for the trapped workers.

Hope Amidst Challenges: DRDO Robots and Tunnelling Preparations

Despite facing challenges, including loose sand casting doubts on the efficacy of DRDO robots deployed for ground crawling, the rescue operation persists. Khalkho disclosed that preparations are underway for the arrival of tunnelling equipment traveling by road from Indore. The Border Roads Organisation (BRO) has facilitated the construction of roads from Silkyara and Barkot ends to expedite the machines’ journey to the site. Operations briefly halted due to a minor collapse and technical issues with the American Augur machine, sourced from Delhi. Replacement machines are en route from Indore, with a 22-meter, 900 mm pipe installation currently underway, aimed at aiding the rescue efforts.

Microtunneling Success: A Modernized Approach

The first breakthrough in the rescue operation involved microtunneling using trenchless technology. Aaroh Swarup, Head International at the Indian Society for Trenchless Technology (IndSTT), explained that microtunneling is an advanced and smaller version of the tunnel boring process. It employs a micro tunnel boring machine (MTBM), controlled remotely and guided by precision lasers. This method minimizes disturbance to existing features and ensures the efficient and safe installation of buried utilities.

Silkyara Tunnel’s Significance in Chardham Project

The Silkyara tunnel, a vital component of the chardham all-weather route in Uttarkashi, Uttarakhand, holds strategic importance. As part of the NH 134 project connecting the four shrines of Gangotri, Yamunotri, Badrinath, and Kedarnath, the 4.5 km double-lane tunnel aims to reduce the distance between Yamunotri and Dharasu, thereby decreasing travel time. Unfortunately, a portion of the tunnel collapsed on November 12, trapping 41 workmen. Since then, collaborative efforts involving national agencies like the National and state disaster response forces, the Prime Minister’s Office, and the Border Roads Organisation have been ongoing to ensure a successful rescue operation.

References

Kurup, Jayashree 2023, First BIG breakthrough; 41 workers trapped in the Uttarakhand Tunnel Collapse get cooked food through 6 inch wide pipeline, Construction World, viewed 29th November 2023, https://www.constructionworld.in/transport-infrastructure/highways-and-roads-infrastructure/first-big-breakthrough;-41-workers-trapped-in-the-uttarakhand-tunnel-collapse-get-cooked-food-through-6-inch-wide-pipeline/47012

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