Uttarakhand tunnel: Drilling halts again, will 'restart shortly', says NDMA

In a statement on Friday, the Union road transport and highways ministry said equipment for micro tunnelling required for horizontal drilling had reached the site

Uttarakhand CM Pushkar Singh Dhami speaks to rescue team personnel inside the tunnel (photo: @pushkardhami/X)
Uttarakhand CM Pushkar Singh Dhami speaks to rescue team personnel inside the tunnel (photo: @pushkardhami/X)
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PTI

Drilling through debris will restart "shortly" to rescue 41 workers trapped in the Silkyara tunnel in Uttrakhand, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) said on Friday evening.

The drilling process was stopped on Thursday owing to obstructions, and the repair work is being done to restart the drilling by an auger machine, NDMA member Lt Gen (retd) Syed Ata Hasnain said while briefing media on the progress of the rescue operations.

"Since yesterday, there has been no progress in terms of movement of the pipe into the tunnel through the debris... We hope that shortly, the auger machine will start working," he said.

Hasnain also said this is the war being fought to save brave sons of India, who had been toiling in the Silkyara tunnel. "By any means, the trapped workers will be rescued as all resources are being used," he said.

According to him, about 15 metres of drilling is still left to reach the stranded workers. "We are going to be very very careful... We are at about 46.57 metres," he said.

Giving details of the operation, he said provided there are no further obstacles, the auger machine should be able to drill about 4-5 metres in an hour. "It is a difficult and challenging operation."

In a statement on Friday, the Union road transport and highways ministry said equipment for micro tunnelling required for horizontal drilling to rescue the workers had reached the site.

Meanwhile, Hasnain also advised the media not to speculate on the timeline for completion of the rescue operations as it "creates a wrong perception". The NDMA member also said all the workers are safe.

Union minister VK Singh and Uttarakhand chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami have spoken to the relatives of the trapped workers.

Drilling through the rubble to prepare an escape route for the workers was set to resume on Friday morning, a day after another snag hit the rescue efforts. On Thursday, boring through the rubble was put on hold again, apparently after cracks appeared in the platform on which the drilling machine rests.


The dampener on Thursday came hours after the operation resumed, following a six-hour delay to cut through an iron girder that came in the way of the auger machine late on Wednesday night.

Hasnain also said central agencies and several state governments are actively involved in the rescue operations. According to him, equipment is coming in from various places to execute the other four alternatives.

"The transport of heavy equipment is being done by facilitating a green corridor through the road, through coordination among central government and various state governments and district authorities," Hasnain said.

The men have been trapped for the past 12 days after a portion of the under-construction tunnel on the Uttarakhand Char Dham route collapsed, cutting off its exit.

In the statement, the road transport and highways ministry on Friday said national and international experts are present at the site to advise on the rescue operation. The government maintains constant communication to boost the morale of those trapped, it added.

The ministry also said a modified communication system with wire connectivity developed by the SDRF (State Disaster Response Force) is being used for communication. People inside have reported that they are safe.

The government has undertaken a five-option action plan to rescue the workers, and five agencies — Oil and Natural Gas Corporation, Sutluj Jal Vidyut Nigam, Rail Vikas Nigam, National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation, and Tehri Hydro Development Corporation — have been assigned specific responsibilities, working collaboratively with occasional task adjustments for operational efficiency.

The machinery for vertical drilling for rescue by SJVNL has arrived at the site, and the platform for the machinery is ready, it added. THDC has also initiated the construction of a rescue tunnel from the Barkot end, with four blasts already completed, resulting in a 9.10-metre drift.

Shotcreting and rib erection have been completed and additional rib fabrication work is in progress, the statement said. Responding to queries on Friday, Hasnain said Himalayan geology is still not a precise science but it is improving by the day. "It's not that we are having an accident every year or once in two years. I haven't heard of an accident like this in years...what happened in Uttarkashi is an unfortunate thing," he said.

Hasnain noted that he has travelled all the tunnels of Jammu and Kashmir and observed that excellent technology is being used. "The maximum tunnelling is going on in Jammu and Kashmir and then in Arunachal Pradesh. The Atal tunnel is an example of great tunnelling work in Himachal," he said.

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