Uttarkashi tunnel collapse exposes 'callous attitude' towards workers' safety: Trade unions

Uttarkashi tunnel collapse exposes 'callous attitude' towards workers' safety: Trade unions

New Delhi, Nov 22 (PTI) Central trade unions said the Silkyara Tunnel collapse in Uttarakashi in which 41 workers remain trapped 'exposes the callous attitude' of the government towards the occupational safety and health of the workers.

'The Platform of Central Trade Unions and Sectoral Federations/Associations express their anguish at the failure of the authorities to take responsibility for the Silkyara Tunnel collapse in Uttarakashi, Uttarakhand,' said a joint statement issued by eleven trade unions and sectoral federations.

The signatories include Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC), All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS), Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), All India United Trade Union Centre (AIUTUC), Trade Union Coordination Centre (TUCC), Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA), All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU), Labour Progressive Federation (LPF), United Trade Union Congress (UTUC), and independent Sectoral Federations and Associations.

'Accidents at work places expose the weaknesses of laws in regard to workplace safety of workers, rather the laxity and violations of whatever existing norms are there get exposed with every incident. The latest, the Silkyara Tunnel collapse, is only one in a series of such accidents,' the unions said.

The team that has been sent by the Centre to monitor the rescue operation has arrived very late, the unions said.

'Other workers are telling that the escape routes/tunnels which are compulsory to meet such emergency situations in the construction of long tunnels were not even planned! They were provided when the 9-km-long Chenani-Nashri tunnel was being constructed in J&K,' the statement said.  'Geologists and experts have come forward saying that companies and agencies involved in tunnel construction in India tend to overlook safety concerns and measures suggested by them for the sake of cutting costs and maximising profits! Principles of New Austrian Tunneling Method, which is both a construction method and a design philosophy are also not followed in the true sense,' they said.

The trade unions further added that serious concerns have been raised by an expert regarding toxic gases being generated inside the tunnel.

'The workers complained that the hume pipes which were placed after one of the earlier accidents had also been removed even before completion of work at the tunnel,' it said.

The unions demanded a probe into the lapses and that the rescue operation be expedited.

'We demand that the rescue operation be expedited to save the workers. There should be a thorough probe into the laxity at any level, right from tendering to various other stages of work of the tunnel.

'We demand the Occupational Safety and Health Code, based on the premise of 'ease of doing business', be withdrawn forthwith, which weakens whatever safety measures exist at present, rather pushes the workers out of the safety net,' they said.

The unions also demanded that the government ratify the ILO conventions about health and safety which have been brought under 'Fundamental Principles of Rights at Work' by the United Nations agency in a session in 2022. 'We demand that all four codes, including the Code on OSH, be withdrawn and ILC should be held at the earliest to address the workers' concerns on codification of laws,' the trade unions added. A multi-agency rescue operations are being carried out on a war footing since portions of the Silkyara tunnel in Uttarkashi district collapsed following a landslide early on November 12, leaving 41 workers trapped behind a huge mound of debris.

A escape pipe is being inserted to evacuate the trapped workers out of the tunnel and an auger machine is drilling through debris of the collapsed stretch of the tunnel. An NDRF team has also been deployed to take out the labourers stuck in the tunnel for the last 10 days. PTI AO AO SKY SKY

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