Government to Reform Tunnel Construction SOPs in Wake of Silkyara Tunnel Mishaps

The Silkyara-Barkot tunnel is a 4.5 km-long two-lane bidirectional tunnel that is part of the Char Dham all-weather road project, which aims to connect important Hindu pilgrim sites in Uttarakhand, North India. The tunnel is being constructed by Navayuga Engineering Company Ltd under the supervision of the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd (NHIDCL). The tunnel is expected to shorten the route between Dharasu and Yamunotri by about 20 km.

Collapse and Rescue

On November 12, 2023, a section of the tunnel collapsed due to a landslide, trapping 41 workers inside the tunnel. The workers were reprofiling the tunnel from the Silkyara portal, about 260 m from the entrance. The collapse created a huge pile of debris that blocked the access to the workers. Rescue operations were immediately launched, involving various government agencies, private experts, and rat-hole miners. After 17 days of relentless efforts, all 41 workers were successfully rescued on November 28, 2023.

Government Response

The Silkyara tunnel collapse was not an isolated incident. According to NHIDCL officials, the tunnel had faced around 20 minor to medium-level collapses in the past five years due to the challenging geology of the region and significant rock deformation. The tender documents for the project did not anticipate the complexity of building tunnels in this specific geography, which has a mix of different rock types with different levels of strength. The Himalayas are also prone to landslides and climate change impacts.

To prevent future mishaps like the Silkyara collapse, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) established a five-member committee to review the standard operating procedures (SOPs) for tunnel construction safety. The committee has suggested some changes in the SOPs based on the lessons learned from the Silkyara incident. The government has decided to implement these changes in all ongoing and future tunnel projects in Uttarakhand and other hilly regions. The government has also ordered a safety audit of other tunnels in the area.



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