Silkyara tunnel collapse in Uttarakhand- Independent investigation called for

Shri Rajiv Gauba

Cabinet Secretary

Dear Shri Gauba,

I refer to the accident involving the collapse of the Silkyara tunnel in Uttarakhand in November, 2023, in which 41 unwary workers got trapped and had to face a serious risk to their lives for more than a fortnight, till rathole miners saved their lives. 

I wonder whether the government has instituted an independent investigation into the reasons for the accident and individuals/ contractors responsible for it. 

When the tunnel collapsed, there were reports that the contracting firm failed to provide an escape  passage, which resulted in trapping the workers. From subsequent reports (, it appears that a fact finding expert team did point to some technical lapses on the part of the contractor but seemed to underplay the failure of the company to provide an escape passage as required in the contract, ostensibly on the ground that global safety norms did not require such an escape outlet as Silkyara Tunnel had two corridors

A press release issued by the NDA government in 2018 ( PRID=1521024) stated, 

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs chaired by the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, has given its approval to the construction of 4.531 km long 2-Lane Bi-Directional Silkyara Bend – Barkot Tunnel with escape passage including approaches on Dharasu -Yamunotri section between Chainage 25.400 Km. and Chainage 51.000 Km in Uttarakhand”. 

It clearly shows that the CCEA’s approval envisaged that the tunnel in question should have an escape passage, whereas, from news reports, it is evident that no such escape passage had been provided by the contracting firm, the Navayuga Group. 

To put forward an argument that no escape passage is needed, long after the accident took place and the workers’ lives hung in balance for 16 long, painful days, is unacceptable as the NHAI which executed the project ought to have incorporated an unambiguous clause in the contract signed with the Navayuga Group that such a passage should be provided. If the contract was silent on that, the blame should go to NHAI. If the contract had a specific clause requiring that the firm should provide an escape passage and if no such passage had been provided, the blame should be placed on the firm. There is no question for the concerned Ministry and the NHAI to obfuscate this aspect and mislead the public.

In view of the seriousness of the accident, I demand that the government entrust the investigation to the CBI and the investigation be monitored by a judicial authority.

This is important especially in view of the fact that the BJP which heads the NDA government, which pushed through the dishonest, illegal Electoral Bond scheme, had unabashedly accepted Rs 55 crores from Navayuga Group and it is possible that there are quid pro quos between its leaders and the donor company, which in itself calls for a court-monitored enquiry.

I demand that the government makes a public announcement that the whole matter concerning the collapse of the Silkyara tunnel be entrusted to the CBI for a court-monitored investigation and, in particular, the investigation should address the following questions:

  1. Whether the NHAI, while signing the contract for construction of the Silkyara tunnel with the Navayuga Group, incorporated a specific clause in it to require the Group to construct an escape passage, as mandated by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) in its resolution dated 20-2-2018 ( If not, should NHAI be held responsible for the lapse?
  2. If the contract contained a clause based on the CCEA decision, did the Navayuga Group construct the escape passage as contractually required? If not, the Navayuga Group should be held responsible and prosecuted for its criminal lapse
  3. Post-accident, did the expert team that investigated the accident examine the contractual requirement and point out the lapse? Or, did the Ministry of Highways/ NHAI keep the expert team in the dark about the contractual requirement?
  4. Did Navayuga Group donate Rs 55 Crores to BJP for ignoring its lapses, if any, in reference to the Silkyara tunnel collapse? Were there quid pro quos involved?
  5. Were there instructions from the NDA political leadership, oral or written, to the Ministry and/or NHAI not to rake up the CCEA requirement of an escape passage being provided in the Silkyara project, so as to mitigate the criminal liability that ought to devolve on the private firm ?

The Electoral Bond scheme in itself incentivised political parties and corporate donors to connive with one another and in that process go to the extra-ordinary extent of encouraging drug companies to supply substandard medicines, allowing engineering firms to compromise safety norms, and so on, to endanger the lives of the people. This involves criminality that cannot be condoned. BJP being the brain behind the scheme and its largest beneficiary should assume the lion’s share of the responsibility. 

I have analysed these aspects in some detail in my article on electoral bonds (accessible at which raises many specific concerns which the government cannot afford to ignore. As suggested by me in the above cited article, I demand an independent enquiry into the same.

I am marking a copy of this letter to the CBI for taking cognizance of the lapses suo moto, as it should, in view of the seriousness of the lapses and the criminality involved.

I am also circulating this letter for a wider public debate on the possible criminal dimension of the egregious Electoral Bond scheme so that the public may also demand affixing responsibility on political parties involved. 

If the government, for some reason, shies away from ordering an independent enquiry, the inevitable inference that the public would draw from it is that the political leadership is afraid of an enquiry and is complicit in the illegality, criminality and the lack of ethics surrounding the scheme.


Yours sincerely,

E A S Sarma

Secretary to the Government of India


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