A tunnel collapse, which left 41 workers trapped inside massive rubble in Uttarakhand’s Uttarkashi district has triggered a massive rescue operation. The tunnel, which was part of a hydropower project, collapsed on November 19, 2023, around 9:30 pm. The workers from seven different states were engaged in drilling and other potentially dangerous works when the mishap occurred.
The rescue teams, comprising NDRF and SDRF have been trying to clear the debris and reach the trapped workers, but so far the progress has been slow and challenging.
A temple dedicated to Baukhnaag Devta, the guardian deity of the region, who is believed to protect the people and the land from natural calamities has been built at the entrance of the tunnel.
Locals have said that the temple was already present at the entrance of the tunnel and it was demolished by the new management of the construction company, without consulting the villagers or the previous management.
The villagers from Sikyara, who live near the incident site, have claimed that the temple’s demolition angered the deity and caused the tunnel collapse. They said that they had warned the construction company against damaging the temple or proceeding without building another one nearby. They said that the temple was a place of worship and a source of safety for the workers and the officials, who used to offer prayers before starting their work.
One of the villagers said, “Parts of the tunnel had collapsed earlier, but not a single worker had been harmed as religious practices were being followed.” He added, “The new management did not listen to us and removed the temple. They did not respect the traditions and the sentiments of the people. They have invited the wrath of the deity.”
A priest of Baukhnaag Devta also supported the villagers’ views and said, “The construction company made a grave mistake by ignoring traditions. Another temple needs to be built. Once the deity is pleased, evacuating labourers will succeed only then.” He said that Uttarakhand, known as Devbhoomi or the land of gods, has a rich culture and history of worshipping various deities, who are revered and feared by the people.
The priest cited the example of Dhari Devi, the protector of Char Dham shrines, whose temple was submerged in June 2013 during the construction of the Alaknanda Hydro Electric Power plant. The submergence of the temple was followed by a devastating flash flood that killed thousands of people and damaged the infrastructure. The priest said that the flood was a result of the goddess’s anger for being disturbed from her original place.
The construction company, however, has denied any connection between the temple demolition and the tunnel collapse. They said that the temple was removed as per the project plan and they had taken all the necessary permissions and precautions. “The tunnel collapse was an unfortunate accident and we are constantly in touch with the rescue teams,” said authorities.
As the rescue efforts continue, a flag has been installed at the mouth of the tunnel, along with a symbolic act of breaking a coconut. In response to the local villagers’ demand, and to seek divine intervention, a new temple has also been set up at the mouth of the tunnel.