Silkyara Tunnel Rescue: Hope to Despair to eventual success

There was considerable angst amongst some citizens and sections of the media that the Government has not done enough and probably not quick enough.

A reading of the events through media reports contrasts with the facts put out in the Press Information Bureau notice. Generally, these Press Notices put out the facts in clinical detail.

The incident happened on the 12th of November, 2023, Diwali day. The NDRF rushed to the spot. However, the equipment and skills required to remedy the situation were beyond the reach of the team on the ground at that point in time. It was clear that usual crowbars and drilling machines would not solve the problem. Some PSU’s like ONGC, SJVNL, RVNL, NHIDCL, and THDC joined the rescue plan. They normally have better drilling facilities that are used to manage emergencies in their operations. They were also the closest. It is quick thinking that they were requisitioned. An Australian expert joined in the next few days. Large machines were put in place in a few days by the Border Roads Organization. One must remember that these are hilly areas. BRO built a road in a day under trying weather. One can imagine that such large machines and/or trailers can move only at about 10 to 20 kms an hour in hilly areas. It is reported that a tunnel borer of American origin to clear the block was used. It broke down and other equipment too broke down. The Australian expert would have needed 24 hours to move from his base. He would have traveled at least for another 24 hours to reach the site.

All of the above meant a massive rescue co-ordination effort. India is no stranger to handling these situations though time was of the essence here. The visa issuance formalities for the international experts needed to be completed in time. There would have been serious logistical issues to iron out. It would have needed the participation of so many central ministries, state ministries, and agencies. The PMO officials were on the ground, as was the Roads and Highway Minister Shri.Nitin Gadkari. General V.K. Singh was already on the ground as was the Secretary in the Prime Minister's office. Surely the PM would have been watching and monitoring though he was present at the cricket match earlier. Protocol also meant that he had to be present when the Australian Deputy PM was in Motera. Obviously, the Australian Deputy PM came not just for the match but for bilateral matters that would relate to political and business agenda.

Despite all the intervening factors and preoccupations, the rescue teams went about their job displaying the highest levels of professionalism. Various methods of reaching out to the trapped workers were worked upon and completed. Vertical drilling, horizontal drilling, drilling, and pipe installation to push in air, food, water, and eatables were completed on a war footing. Rat Mining (which eventually became a critical activity) was initiated. Needless to say, there were psychologists guiding those trapped. The area where people were trapped was 2 km long and 8 feet in height. One can move around. Typically this is a mining situation and people cope with this in the mines. One can debate as to whether there were release exits in the tunnel as a part of the plan, and whether it was there within the 2 km collapse zone. This also depends upon the nature of the rock itself and not every tunnel can have it. We do not have the details and the answer. I must admit that I do not have any knowledge of what happened behind the screen, but one can visualize. We even saw the Australian tunnel professional pray to the divine as well. The medical team, and Chinook helicopters were also on the ground to treat the workers once they were out.

It is not important that the PM is on the ground or not, in this case. Nor is it important that he makes a statement. What is important is the professional, institutional response and holistic plan which covers all the angles of approach. Evidence suggests that it was there.

I would conclude by saying that the government managed the situation very well and all the workers were rescued in 17 days without any casualties.

Jai Hind

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