The only person who can really understand what it’s like to be stuck within a tunnel is a rescued worker. After being saved from a tunnel collapse in 2015 while he was in his early 20s, Satish Tomar, 34, one of the three workers of the Bilaspur tunnel in Himachal Pradesh, felt as if he had been given a second chance at life.
It is nothing short of a miracle that I made it out of the tunnel. It is claimed that one either emerges from the womb of their mother or from inside the womb of mother Earth. That I was born into two births in one lifetime is a blessing. He told Outlook, “I am experiencing a second life, a gift from Dharti mata.
Tomar responds, “It’s frightening, scary!” when asked how he thinks about the plight of the 41 workers who are waiting to be rescued from the collapsed Silkyara tunnel. In the Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand, the collapsed underconstruction tunnel has been the work space for the laborers for 385 hours, 16 days and counting.
“I pray for my brothers, my coworkers, and ask them to be patient. Tomar says, “I hope their misery ends soon, but I wonder whether there could be a timeframe as such in such a difficult and demanding rescue mission.
He draws a comparison between the two circumstances, saying, “In our instance, just two people managed to go outside: Mani Ram and myself. When rubble began to fall within the tunnel, the third worker attempted to flee quickly but was sadly unable to live after landing beneath the falling debris. A section of the 4-lane Kiratpur-Nerchowk highway tunnel under construction fell on September 12, 2015, in the evening.”
Inside, it was completely dark. He believed that the other workers had either fled or were buried under the rubble, leaving him the sole one stuck. He soon found out there were two.
“The entire night both of us could not shut our eyes for a second,” Tomar recalls, recalling the waves of terrifying ideas from the previous night. For us, it seemed as if there would be no second opportunity. It was a really bad sensation. It seemed like our lives were coming to an end. Numerous visions were rushing through my thoughts, including who dies first, who survives, and for how long.”
Tomar and Mani would converse with one other, nevertheless, to prevent themselves from thinking about these things. We used to discuss about our parents, relatives, and families, as well as the state of poverty. He said, “We used to worry what would happen to our moms if we didn’t make it.
He remembers that the main concern was whether or not anybody would try to help them or even knew they were alive. He experienced the scenario as the worst type of nightmare for the first three days.
“I got the impression that there were attempts to save our lives and get us out of the tunnel as soon as I heard the drilling of machines, excavators, generators, etc. operating,” he recalls. Comparing his problems to those stranded in the Silkyara tunnel, Tomar believes that since they are more numerous, each of them need to provide assistance for the other.
Tomar believes that despite the light within the tunnel and the fact that rescuers were able to establish early contact while providing food and medication, the confinement may nevertheless seem like being inside a “Cellular Jail”.
We were without light or power. The tunnel’s water level had risen to about breast height. Inside the tunnel, we used to spend time sitting on a drilling machine. They didn’t provide us a lamp or batteries until the fourth or fifth day, the man claims.
When he was imprisoned in 2015, the government dug a tiny vertical hole through which it ran a cable for two-way communication using a tiny thermal camera. On the fourth day, this allowed them to get water, dried fruits, and medication. This gave us hope that, even if we weren’t brought out right away, we would live. We could breathe because of an internal compressor,” he claims.
In her earlier piece for Outlook, Manasi Sahay Thakur, an IAS official before becoming a DC, also spoke about her involvement in the 2015 tunnel rescue. “The number of persons (labourers) who were trapped and alive was first unknown. The government was only made aware of the situation of the two survivors within after digging a 4-inch diameter hole to allow for quick communication and the provision of essential care,” the author adds.
According to Tomar, horizontal drilling will be successful even in the Silkyara Tunnel scenario, and rescuers need to have looked into this option much sooner or concurrently. He believes that the workers at Silkyara tunnel might have been removed by now if the lessons learned from the 2015 operation of the Bilaspur tunnel had been used.
Tomar, who was born in the Sirmaur area of Himachal Pradesh, now works for a hydroelectric firm in Uttrakhand.