Rocky Reminder – The Silkyara tunnel rescue
On November 12, a tragic incident unfolded in Uttarkashi district, where 41 laborers found themselves trapped in an under-construction tunnel at Silkyara due to a landslide.
- This incident sparked a 17-day-long rescue mission, named Operation Silkyara, involving multiple agencies such as NDRF, SDRF, BRO, RVNL, SJVNL, ONGC, ITBP, and more.
- This operation became the longest rescue effort in India for workers stuck in a tunnel.
- While the successful rescue is commendable, it sheds light on the safety concerns within the Char Dham highway project and the general working conditions for those involved in such infrastructure endeavors.
GS-01, GS-03 (Society, Disaster management)
Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020, Labour Bureau, Silicosis, Byssinosis, International Labour Organisation, ILO Conventions.
Discuss the significance, challenges, and implications for workers’ safety and also the role of multiple agencies and the need for addressing safety concerns to prevent grave incidents like the one in Silkyara tunnel. (250 words)
Occupational Safety and Health (OSH):
- Globally, occupational accidents and diseases contribute to 2.9 million deaths and 402 million non-fatal injuries, costing 5.4% of the global GDP.
- In India, while official statistics show a decline in occupational injuries in registered sectors, unregistered factories and mines present a data gap.
- India’s official records indicate a declining trend in occupational injuries, yet unregistered sectors are excluded from these statistics.
- Instances of occupational diseases like silicosis and byssinosis are observed, emphasizing the need for a comprehensive approach.
- Some states, like Uttar Pradesh, Kerala, and Rajasthan, have undertaken initiatives for OSH awareness and training in specific industries, targeting the informal sector.
Initiatives to Promote OSH:
- International Labour Organisation (ILO) Commemoration: Since 2003, April 28 is celebrated as World Day for Safety and Health at Work globally. The theme for 2022 is “Act together to build a positive safety and health culture.”
- Legislation and Policies: India has ratified ILO conventions, declared a National Policy on Safety, Health, and Environment at the Workplace, and launched a National OSH Programme. The Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020 outlines duties, safety standards, and benefits for workers.
- Issues and Challenges: Underutilized reporting systems, lack of awareness of occupational diseases among doctors, and limited industries covered in statistics present challenges in ensuring safe workplaces.
Dimensions of the Article:
- The Scale of Rescue Operations
- Challenges and Critique
- Reflection on the Highway Project
The Scale of Rescue Operations:
- The Silkyara tunnel rescue, spanning 17 days, stands out as a significant feat in India’s history of rescue operations.
- Various agencies collaborated, employing resources and expertise to evacuate the trapped workers successfully.
- This operation surpassed the duration of similar rescue efforts in the past, such as the Raniganj Coal Mine Campaign in 1989, Haldheri village rescue in 2006, and noteworthy international instances like the Thai Cave Expedition and Chile mine operation.
Challenges and Critique:
- While the rescue was successful, it brings to light the preventable nature of the accident.
- The Char Dham highway project, implicated in this incident, faces scrutiny for its safety standards.
- The unfortunate incident in Thane, where a crane collapse took 20 lives on the Nagpur-Mumbai Samruddhi Expressway, involved the same contractor, Navayuga Engineering Company Ltd. This raises questions about the working conditions and safety measures implemented in infrastructure projects.
- The government should take decisive steps to prevent the recurrence of similar situations and ensure that safety features are integral to on-site working conditions.
- The focus should be on addressing the specific concerns raised by experts and reassessing ongoing projects like the Char Dham highway, considering geological wisdom and the carrying capacity of the local terrain.
Reflection on the Highway Project:
- The successful rescue operation, while laudable, prompts reflection on the safety of workers and future users of the Char Dham highway.
- The repeated safety concerns raised by experts regarding the local terrain and slope-cutting activities demand attention.
- If safety measures are not adequately implemented, the necessity for such rescue operations might persist, emphasizing the imperative to prioritize workers’ safety in ongoing and future infrastructure projects.
- The Silkyara tunnel rescue, a testament to collaborative efforts, brings attention to the broader issue of safety in infrastructure projects. The government must conduct a thorough inquiry into the incident, holding the responsible parties accountable.
- Implementing stringent safety measures and reassessing the Char Dham highway project based on expert recommendations are crucial steps forward.
- Ultimately, the success of a rescue operation should not overshadow the urgency to create a safer working environment for laborers and ensure the sustainability and reliability of critical infrastructure projects in the long run.