Sukhram Bediya, Anil Bediya, and Rajendra Bediya, natives of Jharkhand’s Khirabera, were among the 41 workers rescued from the collapsed Uttarakhand tunnel on Tuesday
A kilometer off the Ranchi-Hazaribag expressway, Khirabera is a village of around 1,000 people, mostly tribal, in the picturesque Chutupalu Valley. With small family landholdings and no other source of livelihood, younger people from the village are forced to migrate to far-off areas for jobs.
Sukhram Bediya, Anil Bediya, and Rajendra Bediya, Khirabera natives who were among the 41 workers rescued from the collapsed Uttarakhand tunnel on Tuesday, too, were forced to look for work hundreds of kilometers away from home.
“A majority of the men work as labourers in Uttarakhand, Sikkim, Karnataka, Maharashtra, and Jammu and Kashmir. The only other way to make ends meet in this area is illegal stone mining. Farming is not very viable,” said Sukhram Bediya’s relative, Asharam. “They have to put their lives in danger by working on hazardous projects for their families.”
Anil Bediya’s uncle, Triveni Bediya, who was distributing sweets when the workers were rescued, expressed happiness that the workers were rescued but rued young men from Khirabera will continue to be forced to look for work outside Jharkhand for the want of jobs locally.
“Those who go to Uttarakhand for jobs are from families with hardly one or two-acre land. They cannot grow more than a crop due to water scarcity. Lack of job opportunities compels them to go away from their homes. Workers are paid just ₹300 daily under MNREGS [Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme]...working in tunnels pays ₹600 daily,” said Triveni Bediya.
Fifteen of the 41 workers, who were trapped in the tunnel, are from Jharkhand, and three are from Khirabera.
Anil Bediya’s mother, Sanju Devi, said she spent sleepless nights since she was informed that her son was among those trapped. She added she was happy to know that her son was rescued but would not believe it unless she saw him in person.
Rajendra Bediya’s father, Sharvan Bediya, who lost a nephew in an accident on November 21, said all they got from the state government was 20 kg of rice. He added they had stopped relying on news channels as they were giving confusing information. “We were almost losing hope.”
The trapped workers were rescued after 422 hours with the first worker coming out at around 7:45pm on Tuesday. Twelve rat-hole miners sent in on November 27 made possible the final breakthrough as they squeezed in a metal pipe and cut through a rock face by hand. Disaster relief personnel pulled out the workers hours later. The workers were wheeled out through a 57-metre-long steel chute inserted into the cavernous tunnel between Silkyara and Barkot.
Relatives of the trapped workers hugged their loved ones as they were wheeled out. Hopes of a rescue were repeatedly dashed due to the fresh collapse of debris and machine breakdown.
Engineers working to drive a metal pipe horizontally through 57 meters (187 feet) of rock and concrete last week ran into metal girders and construction vehicles buried in the rubble. This snapped an earth-boring auger machine. Rescuers established video contact through an endoscopic camera and sent in food and fruits through a second six-inch pipe inserted into the debris even as barrelling into the collapsed tunnel ran into fresh difficulties.
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