Such development work must be undertaken after due consideration to the most scientific methods and safety norms.
No set of people could have elicited more sympathy from 140 crore Indians as the 41 miners stuck inside the Silkyara-Balkot tunnel. It is tragic that while each dawn of day — which they may have experienced only vaguely within the dark caverns of a Uttarkashi tunnel — brought them rays of hope about rescuers breaking through, the end of daylight in the terrain above just dashed them.
In the 16 days since the horror cave-in occurred at dawn on Diwali day, the efforts of men above have been focussed on getting them out alive, and in reasonable shape. But the problems encountered in cutting through rock have been so bewildering that progress has been excruciatingly slow even as rescue efforts were shut down occasionally with the rock and debris proving too hard to crack even for the rotor blades of auger machines.
A typically Indian rescue effort has been gathering pace over a fortnight but, as we suspected, it took a while for them to borrow expertise from abroad. And now with stop-start horizontal drilling delaying things, vertical drilling is being resorted to, with the anxieties it is bound to engender about a possible roof collapse with the eco-fragile mountain being subjected to heavy vibrations.
With Army and Air Force personnel joining in along with rat-hole miners with experience of working in confined spaces, manual horizontal digging is the challenge still being taken on. While logic would posit that the horizontal route would be the best way in for rescue pipes, the delays have led to resorting to alternate methods in the hope that the rescue could be sooner than anticipated.
If there is one thing the Establishment should not have done was to publicise all kinds of rescue deadlines that have only piled on more misery on the trapped workers. It is another matter that the hazardous task of widening the highway to Yamunotri while lopping off 20 kms of road journey by way of the tunnel is part of the modernisation process that the ecologically sensitive Himalayan landscape is being subjected to.
A single tunnel collapse should not stop a larger project that should be beneficial to people. The point is such development work must be undertaken after due consideration to the most scientific methods and safety norms in civil construction. India’s famous jugaad to cut costs may prove expensive in terms of lives. We must learn to put more value on Indian lives.