In a demonstration of human ingenuity and resourcefulness, a small group comprising five to six rat-hole miners successfully cleared debris using handheld tools on Tuesday, paving the way for an 800 mm pipe to penetrate and reach the 41 trapped workers. The tunnel collapse occurred 17 days ago during its construction in Uttarkashi, Uttarakhand.
“At approximately 1 pm today, the breakthrough occurred. The 800 mm diameter pipe is now visible to the workers within the tunnel, on the opposite side of the rubble. This signifies that the workers’ exit is imminent, just a matter of a few hours,” disclosed a source familiar with the situation to THE WEEK.
A team of rat-hole miners was deployed at the tunnel site on Monday to aid the ongoing rescue efforts.
Rat-hole mining, commonly practiced in Meghalaya’s coal mines, involves extracting coal from narrow horizontal seams by digging through small pits. Miners descend into these pits using bamboo ladders, where the space allows only one person to enter and maneuver.
The tunnel collapse occurred on November 12, trapping the workers as they were in the final stages of constructing the tunnel from the Silkyara side in Uttarkashi district, Uttarakhand.
This 4.5 km-long tunnel, once completed, will link Silkyara with Barkot, eliminating the need for a 26 km-long, hour-long vehicle journey through challenging high-altitude terrain and reducing it to a few minutes.
The tunnel, set to pass beneath the Radi Pass upon completion, promises faster and easier all-weather connectivity to areas such as the Harsil sector near the India-China border, an area marked with disputes involving China.
Among the 41 trapped workers, 15 hail from Jharkhand, five from both Odisha and Bihar, eight from Uttar Pradesh, three from West Bengal, two each from Assam and Uttarakhand, and one from Himachal Pradesh.
The tunnel’s construction was undertaken by Navyug Engineering Company under the overarching supervision of the National Highways Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL).