Silkyara report calls for close reading - Hindustan Times

Silkyara report calls for close reading

ByHT Editorial
Feb 21, 2024 09:00 PM IST

The pace of construction and targets cannot be at the cost of safety and sustainability — infrastructure actors can’t brazen this out anymore.

The National Highways Infrastructure Development Corporation’s summary rejection of an expert panel report on the Silkyara tunnel collapse is telling. Dismissing the findings without a detailed rebuttal signals a certain degree of apathy and disregard for specialist counsel that is crucial to the safety assessment, and planning of infrastructure projects in sensitive terrain, such as the Himalayas.

The collapsed Silkyara tunnel. (PTI/File) PREMIUM
The collapsed Silkyara tunnel. (PTI/File)

The Uttarakhand government-appointed panel, tasked with examining the conditions that led to 41 workers getting trapped for 17 days after a portion of the tunnel collapsed in November last year, has pointed out several defects in the planning and design of the project, including the lack of an escape route, an alarm system in case of a crisis, insufficient exploration of geological and hydrological conditions to determine the feasibility of construction and lack of real-time monitoring for deformation and stress formation. Beyond the panel’s findings, the culture of prioritising the pace of construction over safety and durability needs an urgent rethink.

The Silkyara crisis was not one that couldn’t have been foreseen. Various committee reports on the Char Dham Mahamarg Pariyojana — the mother project for the Silkyara tunnel — and submissions before the Supreme Court in related cases had detailed discrepancies in the planning, design and implementation of the project. All of these went unheeded. Mandatory environmental impact assessment, several rules on tree-felling and debris/muck disposal, and science-backed norms on hill-cutting specific to the region were ignored. Such official dysfunction afflicts not just Himalayan projects such as Silkyara or the dam project in Sikkim that resulted in terrible flash floods in the state, but even supposedly better-monitored ones in other regions such as the Pragati Tunnel in the national capital. The pace of construction and targets cannot be at the cost of safety and sustainability — infrastructure actors can’t brazen this out anymore.

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