Trapped Indian tunnel workers given antidepressants as anger grows over nine-day ordeal

Breakthrough in rescue operations likely in two and a half days, says federal transport minister

Arpan Rai
Monday 20 November 2023 13:44 GMT
Rescuers work to save 40 workers trapped under collapsed tunnel in India

Antidepressants and other essentials were being supplied to the 41 workers trapped inside a collapsed tunnel in India on Monday as their families’ patience wore thin over the nine-day rescue operation.

Some of the 41 men who have been trapped inside the tunnel in India’s northern Uttarakhand state since 12 November have begun suffering health issues ranging from dysentery to headaches and increasing anxiety over their safe rescue.

At the weekend efforts to drill through the fallen rocks and debris blocking the mouth of the tunnel were halted after the auger machine being used broke down, and it was decided the risk of new landslides was too great. The authorities are now planning to drill a new hole downwards vertically to rescue the workers.

While Indian prime minister Narendra Modi attempted to reassure the families of the workers that “federal and state rescuers are working seamlessly”, they have voiced more anger the longer the rescue operation has been prolonged. The new vertical hole could take days more to drill, officials say.

On Saturday, an angry confrontation was seen between the families of the workers and those supervising the rescue. The families had also protested last week to expedite drilling at the site.

“I am losing my patience,” Maharaj Singh Negi, whose brother Gabbar Singh is among the trapped workers, was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.

“The officials have not even briefed us about the future plans.”

Authorities have tried multiple different approaches to evacuate the trapped workers since 12 November.

India’s road transport minister Nitin Gadkari on Sunday said a breakthrough in rescue operations is likely in two-and-a-half days.

“Saving the trapped workers and evacuating them at the earliest is the biggest priority. Preparations are underway to restart the auger machine and resume drilling and pipe-laying at the tunnel,” he said.

“Though I am no technical expert, in the given circumstances, horizontal digging seems the best option. If the auger machine does not encounter any obstacles it might reach the trapped workers in two and a half days.”

A narrow pipe that was originally part of the construction work has been used to send essential supplies like food to the workers, while another pipe is supplying oxygen. Officials said they were being sent multivitamins and antidepressants to try and help with the mental and physical strain of their ordeal.

The state health department has set up a camp for health checkups near the site and has 10 ambulances on standby.

“We are sending multivitamins, antidepressants and dry fruits to workers who have been trapped inside the under-construction tunnel at Silkyara in Uttarkashi [area in Uttarakhand],” Anurag Jain, a top government official at the road transport and highways ministry, told news channel NDTV.

“Fortunately, there is light inside the area because the electricity is on.

“There is a pipeline and thus water is available. There was a four-inch pipe which was used for compression. Through that we are sending food from day one,” he said.

The cause of the accident has not yet been determined by Indian authorities. The hillside state of Uttarakhand is prone to landslides, earthquakes and floods.

The under-construction tunnel is part of the Modi administration’s multi-million dollar Char Dham project that aims to link four Hindu holy sites in the state.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in