Uttarakhand Tunnel Rescue: Who Are These Workers Trapped For a Week Now
Gaon Connection traced families of some of the trapped migrant workers from Dumaria block of Jharkhand who barely own an acre of land and live in abject poverty.
Manoj Choudhary 19 Nov 2023 7:45 PM GMT
East Singhbhum, Jharkhand
The winter is approaching and 63-year-old Baset Murmu has no woollens to wear. The farmer barely owns an acre (0.4 hectare) of farmland in Kundaluka village and cannot grow enough to feed his family, hence his son, Bhuktu Murmu, who is in his early 20s, had to migrate in search of work.
Bhuktu had promised to buy woollens for his old parents and his wife, Punta Murmu, and their two kids aged seven and four years.
But for the past one week now (over 180 hours), the young labourer from East Singhbhum district in Jharkhand is trapped inside in an under construction tunnel in Uttarakhand’s Uttarkashi district, about seven-hour drive from the state capital Dehradun.
Along with him, 40 more workers are stuck at a distance of about 200 metres from the mouth of the tunnel, which collapsed at around 5:30 AM on the Diwali morning on November 12.
Rescue operations are on but so far, there has been no light at the end of this tunnel, which is a part of the Indian government’s ambitious Char Dham all-weather road project.
“We knew that our son had gone to earn money and send it home but we did not know that he was in Uttarakhand. I got to know about my son being trapped in a tunnel in Uttarakhand when the local police asked me to visit the police station with his Aadhaar card for identification purposes,” said Baset Murmu, the father of Bhuktu, whose family lives in a dilapidated mud house.
“We are poor people who just somehow manage two square meals in a day. It was because of these conditions of poverty that my son Bhuktu had to migrate. We just want him to return home safely,” the worried father told Gaon Connection.
Of the 41 workers trapped inside the tunnel, 39 of them are migrant workers from the states of Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Odisha, and Himachal Pradesh, while two are from Uttarakhand.
A total of six workers from Dumaria block of East Singhbhum district are presently trapped inside the tunnel — Gunodhar Nayek, Ravindra Nayek and Ranjit Nayek are residents of Manikpur village, while Samir Nayek hails from Bankisol, Bhuktu Murmu from Kundaluka, and Tinku Sardar from Dumaria town.
Gaon Connection traced the families of four of these trapped workers. All these workers are in their early 20s, with one of them, Samir Nayek, only 18.
Their families live in abject poverty and barely own an acre of land. Lack of irrigation facilities and a lack of employment opportunities forces these workers to migrate to other states.
Budni Nayek’s three sons had migrated to Uttarakhand. “Two of my sons are safe but Ganodhar is stuck in the tunnel. I am praying for his safety,” the resident of Manikpur village said. “I am thankful to the government for providing food, water and medicines to my son inside the tunnel. My sons will now reconsider migration to other states as it is not safe,” she added.
“We don’t have much land, it is less than an acre and there’s no water to irrigate. Hence, my sons go out to other states to work,” the mother said.
Meanwhile, a few metres away from her house, is the house of Ravindra Nayek, another migrant worker in his early 20s who is stuck inside the tunnel. He lived there with his uncle.
“Migration is normal for the village families not by choice but by compulsion. Village youth migrate and live miserable lives just to be able to earn money for their families. I just hope my nephew comes home alive,” Prafull Nayek, Ravindra Nayek’s uncle, told Gaon Connection.
“After working hard for one day in Dumaria and adjacent blocks, a daily wage labourer earns only around Rs 200 to Rs 300, but in other states they get Rs 500 daily. Hence, to earn more money, village youth prefer to migrate instead of working locally,” he added.
Just like Ravinder Nayek, 18-year-old Samir Nayek used to live with his uncle in Bankisol village as he had lost his father in childhood.
“Three months back, he had migrated to Uttarkashi along with his friends. I got to know about his whereabouts from newspapers,” said Jawaharlal Nayek, his uncle.
“No police or administrative officials have been providing any information about my nephew. We had been getting Samir’s information through his friend in Uttarkashi, but for the last three days, all communication with him has been lost too,” the uncle said.
“Samir’s elder brother Sharma Nayek will now leave for Uttarkashi to get information about his condition,” he added.
“The government should pay attention to better education and provide irrigation facilities for cultivation. Only better income through farming would stop migration from the villages,” said Jawaharlal Nayek.
Rescue operation underway
Nitin Gadkari, Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways visited the site of the tunnel collapse yesterday, November 19, along with Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami. They reviewed the rescue operations while Gadkari assured that if the machines that were brought in for the drilling work properly, the workers would be rescued in ‘two to three’ days.
“In the meantime, those trapped are safe and in good spirits,” he told the press.
The drilling machines deployed to evacuate the trapped workers from the tunnel haven’t been successful in getting the workers out so far. The tunnel is being constructed by the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited.
The primary purpose of the tunnel is to connect Yamunotri and Gangotri valley in Uttarakhand to facilitate travelling during pilgrim season. Once built, the tunnel passing beneath the Radi pass is to reduce the 25.6 kilometres long road journey to 4.5 kilometres through the tunnel.
The location of the trapped workers is at a distance of about 200 metres from the mouth of the tunnel. The plan to rescue the workers from the tunnel involves drilling a small but stable horizontal passage inside the tunnel to facilitate their safe exit.
A landslide on November 12 had caused a section of tunnel to collapse and the debris blocked the entrance of the tunnel leading to the workers getting trapped inside. The 4.5 kilometres long tunnel was being constructed between Silkyara and Dandalgaon on the Brahmakal-Yamunotri national highway as part of the Char Dham project.