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Uttarkashi Tunnel Collapse

  • 22 Nov 2023
  • 5 min read

For Prelims: Silkyara-Barkot Tunnel, Char Dham Project, National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd, Drill and Blast Method, Atal Tunnel, Pir Panjal Railway Tunnel, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Road Tunnel.

For Mains: Issues Related to Tunnel Construction in India, Challenges Related to Indian Himalayan Region.

Source: TH

Why in News?

Recently, an under-construction Silkyara-Barkot tunnel along the Yamunotri National Highway in Uttarkashi district, Uttarakhand, collapsed, trapping a significant number of workers inside.

  • The incident raises concerns about tunnel construction, prompting closer examination of potential causes and preventive measures.

What Could be the Potential Cause of Tunnel Collapse?

  • About:
    • The Silkyara-Barkot tunnel is part of the ambitious Char Dham all-weather road project of the Central Government.
    • The construction of the tunnel was tendered to Hyderabad-headquartered Navayuga Engineering Company by the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd (NHIDCL), a fully owned company of the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways, Government of India.
  • Potential Causes of Tunnel Collapse: The exact cause of the tunnel collapse is yet to be ascertained, but a possible factor could be:
    • The collapsed section, situated around 200-300 meters from the tunnel mouth, might have contained a hidden loose patch of fractured or weak rock, undetectable during construction.
    • Water seepage through this compromised rock could have eroded it over time, creating an unseen void atop the tunnel structure.

What are the Critical Aspects of Tunnel Construction?

  • Tunnel Excavation Techniques:
    • Drill and Blast Method (DBM): Involves drilling holes into rock and detonating explosives to break it apart.
      • DBM is often used in regions like the Himalayas (Jammu & Kashmir and Uttarakhand) due to the challenging terrain.
    • Tunnel-Boring Machines (TBMs): It bore through rock while supporting the tunnel behind with precast concrete segments. It is a more expensive but safer method.
      • TBMs are ideal when the rock cover is up to 400 metres tall. Underground tunnels for the Delhi Metro were dug using a TBM at shallow depth.
  • Aspects in Tunnel Construction:
    • Rock Investigation: Thoroughly examining the rock's strength and composition through seismic waves and petrographic analysis to assess its load-bearing capacity and stability.
    • Monitoring and Support: Continuous monitoring using stress and deformation meters, along with various support mechanisms like shotcrete, rock bolts, steel ribs, and specialized tunnel pipe umbrellas.
    • Geologist Assessments: Independent geologists play a crucial role in examining the tunnel, predicting potential failures, and determining the rock's stability duration.

What are the Other Major Tunnels in India?

  • Atal Tunnel: Atal Tunnel (also known as Rohtang Tunnel) is a highway tunnel built under the Rohtang Pass in the eastern Pir Panjal range of the Himalayas on the Leh-Manali Highway in Himachal Pradesh, India.
    • At a length of 9.02 km, it is the longest tunnel above 10,000 feet (3,048 m) in the world.
  • Pir Panjal Railway Tunnel: This 11.2 km long tunnel is India's longest transportation railway tunnel.
    • It runs through the Pir Panjal mountain range between Quazigund and Baramulla.
  • Jawahar Tunnel: It is also called Banihal Tunnel. The length of the tunnel is 2.85 km.
    • The tunnel facilitates round-the-year road connectivity between Srinagar and Jammu.
  • Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Road Tunnel: It was previously known as Chenani-Nashri Tunnel and is the longest road tunnel of India.The length of this road tunnel is 9.3 km.

Way Forward

  • Regular Maintenance: Implement a stringent maintenance schedule, including inspections for structural integrity, drainage systems, and ventilation to identify and rectify issues promptly.
    • Employ sensors and monitoring technologies to continuously assess structural health, detecting any potential weaknesses or anomalies early.
  • Risk Assessment and Preparedness: Conducting third party risk assessments periodically, considering geological, environmental, and usage factors.
    • Developing contingency plans and emergency protocols in case of any structural concerns.
  • Training and Awareness: Training personnel in tunnel management and emergency response procedures. Public awareness campaigns can educate users and nearby residents about safety measures and reporting mechanisms.
  • Technology Integration: Explore innovative technologies like Artificial Intelligence, drones, or robotics for more efficient inspections, maintenance, and early detection of potential issues.

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