Uttarkashi tunnel rescue is a great achievement. But it was needed because of a miserable failure – blogwspace.com

Uttarkashi tunnel rescue is a great achievement. But it was needed because of a miserable failure

The 4.5 km Silkyara tunnel in Uttarakhand is part of the ambitious Char Dham Highway Development Project, one of PM Modi’s flagship infrastructure programmes. The project has been branded as a way to ease travel to Hindu pilgrimage sites, and to provide all-weather connectivity for the movement of military personnel and equipment towards India’s international boundary to preserve the country’s territorial integrity and security.

On November 12, the Silkyara tunnel collapsed, thus trapping 41 workers.

It is a great relief for the families of the workers and the country as a whole – almost every Indian was watching the unfolding rescue operation with bated breath for 17 days. It was a mammoth operation. All the workers who were trapped in the Silkyara tunnel are reported to be healthy and happy.

This a tremendous achievement. The rescue team led by the NDRF and with the SDRF and a host of other agencies deserves plaudits. The location and the hilly terrain posed complications and there were other challenges too.

Even as this episode has ended on a happy note, the much sought-after development paradigm in general and the infrastructure development trajectory in particular in the Himalayan region comes under serious discussion yet again. The Himalayas are the youngest mountain ranges that are also geologically fragile as they are still in a transformative stage. The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), the agency executing the Char Dham project, needs to take this critical factor into account. The first point in the Prime Minister’s Ten-Point Agenda, adopted in the Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction 2016, lays down that all development sectors must imbibe the principles of disaster risk management. This will ensure that all development projects — airports, roads, canals, hospitals, schools, bridges — are built to appropriate standards and contribute to the resilience of the community they seek to serve. However, the NHAI has failed miserably in the planning as well as execution of this important flagship project.

All the concerned organisations should have worked out contingency plans for disaster planning — creating a worst-case scenario. The emergency exit for such a contingency will need to be an integral part of the design and planning. The authority also needs to invest in regular safety audits in all its projects.

There is a need to ensure that all infrastructure development conforms to the best available standards of safety. This can perhaps help bring about a balance between the demand for development for tourism, hydroelectric projects, etc, and disaster risk.

The Disaster Management Act 2005 gives ample statutory powers to the local administration through the District Disaster Management Authority to act as a watchdog with the involvement of the local population.

The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-30, with India as a leading signatory, emphasises the importance of “understanding disaster risk” as its priority. Disaster risk management should be based on an understanding of disaster risk in all its vulnerability, capacity, exposure of all persons and assets, hazardous characteristics and most importantly, the environment.

The ninth point in the Prime Minister’s Ten-Point Agenda highlights the need for learning lessons from disasters in India as well as ones happening across the globe.

Last, but not least, what is praiseworthy is the feedback received from the rescued workers that they resorted to yoga and morning walks for stress management to keep their morale high. Instead of getting frustrated, despondent, and desperate they showed the highest level of determination, resolve and discipline to come out triumphant and resilient. Managing psychological and psychosocial trauma is yet another important part of the practice which is rather neglected, and we need to work on this.

The writer is a retired IAS officer and former vice chairman, Bihar State Disaster Management Authority

© The Indian Express Pvt Ltd

First published on: 30-11-2023 at 10:00 IST

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