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Who Was Building the Uttarakhand Tunnel That Collapsed?

Some details on Navayuga Engineering Company Limited, from which 41 workers remain trapped in the collapsed tunnel that's part of the Union government's high-profile yet controversial Char Dham project in Uttarkashi, are worth noting.

New Delhi: Sixth day running, efforts to rescue 41 workers caught under the debris of an ambitious under-construction tunnel in Uttarakhand’s Uttarkashi have not made any headway.

The construction workers have been trapped 260 metres inside the Silkyara-Barkot under-construction tunnel since Sunday (November 12), when a part of the tunnel collapsed following a landslide around 5.30 am, reports the Hindustan Times.

The Silkyara tunnel is part of the Narendra Modi government’s Char Dham all-weather accessibility project.

A gaggle of television reporters are stationed outside the tunnel and appear to be focusing only on the government’s efforts to save lives.

The Navayuga Engineering Company Limited is responsible for carrying out the tunnel’s construction.

The rescue operation was suspended on November 17 when a loud cracking sound was heard in the tunnel. Per reports, this happened during the positioning of a pipe.

Some pipes are being used to supply the workers with food, water and medicines.

Samruddhi Expressway accident

The Silkyara tunnel crisis has come barely three months after 20 workers and engineers lost their lives on the Nagpur-Mumbai Samruddhi Expressway in Maharashtra’s Thane district.

A gantry crane used to construct a viaduct that was part of the expressway’s third phase collapsed and fell on the workers and the engineers present at the site.

The first phase of the expressway was inaugurated by Modi in December 2022.

An FIR was registered against the sub-contractors of Navayuga Engineering Company Limited and VSL Private Limited, the agencies “hired to construct Package 16 of Samruddhi Expressway,” reported the Indian Express.

Income Tax raid

Navayuga, a Hyderabad-based multi-crore company, found itself in the crosshairs of the Jagan Mohan Reddy government in Andhra Pradesh when power changed hands from the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) to Reddy’s YSR Congress Party in 2019.

The Jagan regime seemed to view Navayuga as ‘pro-TDP’ and close to its arch rival, Chandrababu Naidu.

Several coveted projects cornered by Navayuga in Andhra Pradesh during the TDP era were suddenly taken away from it by the new state government.

On October 26, 2018, a 20-member team of income tax officials from New Delhi zeroed onto Navayuga. They swooped down on multiple offices of the conglomerate across the state, accusing it of violating income tax rules and also laundering money.

Incidentally, news reports have underlined that the Adani group had been eyeing the Krishnapatnam Port Company in Andhra Pradesh for several years.

However, it had gone to a company of the Navayuga group during the TDP era.

With Jagan Reddy then taking on the firm, Adani tried its luck once more, and successfully acquired it.

In July 2020, the Competition Commission of India under the Union Ministry of Finance gave its consent to the Adani Ports and Special Economic Zones to buy out a 75% stake in that port from Navayuga. The remaining 25% was taken over in 2021.

Plum projects 

This tunnel is on the Char Dham route, a pet project of the Modi government.

When completed, it would not only shorten the pilgrimage route to Yamunotri by 20 kms, but also enable all-weather connectivity to the major Hindu pilgrimage site.

The project, cleared by the cabinet committee on economic affairs which was chaired by Prime Minister Modi in 2018, was to be completed in 2022 and is currently on an extension.

In mid-2020, Navayuga had also been granted the government’s ambitious Rishikesh-Karnaprayag rail link project.