Rescue Efforts Intensify for Trapped Indian Workers in Collapsed Himalayan Tunnel Amidst Controversial Infrastructure Project

Rescue Efforts Intensify for Trapped Indian Workers in Collapsed Himalayan Tunnel Amidst Controversial Infrastructure Project

Heavy machinery commenced drilling on Tuesday to repair a wide steel pipe essential for the rescue operation of nearly 40 Indian workers trapped inside a collapsed Himalayan highway tunnel in Uttarakhand. The 4.5-km tunnel, part of a significant Hindu pilgrimage route, collapsed early Sunday morning, prompting ongoing efforts to reach the trapped laborers.

"We have been supplying food, water, and oxygen to the trapped laborers, and the officials are in continuous touch with all of them," stated Devendra Singh Patwal, a disaster management official. Excavators have been diligently clearing debris for two days, awaiting the delivery of a wide steel pipe crucial for safely extracting the workers. The timeline for the rescue operation remains uncertain.

Geologists from the state government and educational institutions have arrived to investigate the cause of the accident. According to a construction worker who escaped safely, around 50 to 60 workers were initially inside the tunnel, with 10 to 20 managing to exit after their shift. The region's susceptibility to landslides, earthquakes, and floods raises concerns about the safety of construction projects in the area.

The collapsed tunnel is part of the Char Dham pilgrimage route, a prominent project of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government. The ambitious initiative aims to connect four significant Hindu pilgrimage sites through a 889 km two-lane road, costing $1.5 billion. The project, however, has faced criticism from environmental experts and experienced delays, with the tunnel's completion now pushed to May 2024.

The Char Dham road project has encountered controversy, with work halting in some areas due to subsidence-related damages to hundreds of houses. Environmental concerns were raised by a Supreme Court-appointed expert committee in July 2020, emphasizing inadequate assessments of the project's impact on the region. Despite Supreme Court approval in 2021, caution was advised, urging the government to address environmental concerns.

Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami announced on Tuesday that the state would conduct a comprehensive examination of all tunnels under construction to ensure their safe completion and better preparedness for potential emergencies. The incident underscores the challenges and controversies surrounding infrastructure development in geologically sensitive areas.

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