No light at the end of this tunnel

Local politicians, when informed that most of these workers are from outside the state (only two are from Uttarakhand), point out that when the Char Dham yatra was started, the central government had claimed it would provide large scale employment to the local youth. Clearly, this has not been the case.

Varun Adhikari, an engineering geologist says, “The collapse at Silkyara is a classic case of unprofessional tunnelling practices and negligence toward essential tunnelling principles. It also highlights the importance of maintaining diligence in adhering to proper procedures especially in reprofiling and utilising hydraulic breakers or minor blasting with due consideration of the tunnel’s specific conditions and potential consequences on the surrounding rock mass.”

Dr C.P. Rajendran, a scientist who specialises in earthquake geology and tectonics, is equally aghast. “No SOPs (standard operating procedures) were being followed here, with serious consequences. Previously, such excavations in the mountains were carried out under the supervision of competent geologists, followed by continuous tunnel logging, among other precautionary measures. Why were no safety norms or reviews ordered by the authorities even after the tunnel collapse in 2019?”

The answer is not hard to find. The tunnel construction was being supervised by the National Highways Authority of India along with DSCL (DCM Shriram Consolidated Limited) which, in turn, contracted it to the Navyug Construction Company which, in turn, sub-let it to another company that obviously lacks the expertise to undertake such a project.

Inadequate geological understanding of the natural composition of the rocks in the region and non-compliance with regulations are a lethal combination. Cost constraints (such as they are) compromise regulations (such as they are), while the extensive use of explosive triggers landslides. Environment Impact Assessment had been done away with for the entire Char Dham project and people on the ground are paying for this with their lives.

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