The successful rescue mission in the Silkyara, shows how coordinated efforts and a compassionate approach can achieve the impossible
The march of science, the heart of man must beat in unison with the heart of God. The future belongs to spirituality over science, to metaphysics over physics. These profound words of Swami Vivekananda gripped my attention after a friend of mine shared it on my WhatsApp with a photograph of tunnelling expert Arnold Dix bowing down before God (read Almighty) outside the Silkyara tunnel.
The successful completion of the rescue mission to extricate 41 workers trapped inside the Silkyara tunnel on Uttarakhand's Char Dham route was achieved on Tuesday evening of November 28, 2023. Rat-hole mining experts employed manual drilling techniques to navigate through the final 10-12-meter stretch of debris from the collapsed section of the under-construction tunnel. It was on the morning of Diwali, November 12, that a landslide occurred at approximately 5:30 AM, causing a section of the Silkyara-Dandalgaon tunnel under construction on the Brahmakal-Yamunotri highway at Uttarkashi to collapse.
The tunnel, a critical part of the Char Dham all-weather road project led to the trapping of 41 workers inside the tunnel, specifically at the Silkyara Bend – Barkot tunnel, situated about 200 meters from its entrance, which triggered a challenging rescue operation, as the entire nation joined in unison praying for the safe exit of the trapped workers.
Action by officials and district administration began immediately and meticulously to bring out the trapped workers unhurt. Twelve skilled rat-hole mining experts played a crucial role in this intricate operation.
The successful rescue operation in the Silkyara tunnel – after the 17-day ordeal of life and death – involved a collaborative effort from various entities, including the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) at the national level, state rescue agencies, international drilling experts, and even local rat-mining labourers — whose crucial contribution had often been overlooked by many. The district administration swiftly initiated rescue operations with approximately 200 disaster relief personnel employing drilling equipment and excavators. Simultaneously, oxygen, electricity, and food were provided to the trapped labourers through air-compressed pipes. Other than NDRF, the other agencies included SDRF, BRO, NHIDCL, and ITBP, who collaborated in the rescue efforts.
In the Odisha train disaster, the NDRF played a crucial role in rescue operations. During the Sudan crisis, India launched 'Operation Kaveri' facilitating the safe evacuation of 3,000 stranded Indians. Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar engaged with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, while the Indian Air Force and Navy conducted flights and sorties, evacuating nearly 3,900 Indians.
After the release of the 41 trapped workers, in a message, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that their "courage and patience" was inspiring. In a post on ‘X’, he wrote, “I want to say to the friends who were trapped in the tunnel that your courage and patience is inspiring for everyone. I wish you all well and good health. It is a matter of great satisfaction that, after a long wait, our friends will now meet their loved ones.”
Coming back to the profound words of Swami Vivekananda, as mentioned at the beginning, it emphasises the harmony between the march of science and the spiritual essence of humanity. The idea that "the future belongs to spirituality over science, to metaphysics over physics" suggests a balance between the material and the spiritual dimensions of human existence.
In the context of the successful rescue mission in the Silkyara tunnel and other instances mentioned, this balance is evident in the coordinated efforts and compassionate approach adopted by various entities involved.
The challenging rescue operation in the Silkyara tunnel serves as a practical manifestation of this balance. One could say that the use of manual drilling techniques, led by skilled rat-hole mining experts, symbolises the human touch, perseverance, and skill beyond mechanised technology. The collaboration of different entities, from local rat-mining labourers to international drilling experts, reflects a holistic approach.
Arnold Dix, bowing down, serves as a poignant reminder of the humility required in the face of the unknown. Tunnelling through the Earth, Dix, a master of physical engineering, found himself compelled to bow before a force greater than himself — a force that perhaps transcended the limits of his scientific understanding. This gesture encapsulates the essence of surrendering to the supreme, acknowledging that there are realms beyond the grasp of human intellect.
Amidst the grandeur of our discoveries, there exists a yearning for meaning and purpose that science alone cannot satiate.
This is where spirituality steps in, offering solace to the searching soul and providing a framework for understanding the metaphysical aspects of our existence.
However, the act of surrendering to the supreme does not imply abandoning reason or forsaking scientific inquiry. Instead, it encourages a harmonious coexistence where the intellect bows to the infinite wisdom that transcends empirical understanding. Moreover, surrendering to the supreme allows us to navigate the uncertainties of life with grace and resilience.
In moments of adversity, the recognition of a higher power provides a source of strength and comfort, where one understands a sense of purpose.
The integration of spirituality and science may find a deeper understanding of our existence and our place in this grand arena of the cosmos, where our greed and wants need to be self-checked and demand self-restraint.
(The writer is a programme executive, Gandhi Smriti and Darshan Samiti, views are personal)