Learnings from Silkyara Tunnel Rescue: Teamwork Saves Lives!

Every man attains perfection and success by devoting to prescribed duty as per their natural abilities and disposition – Bhagavad Gita 18.45

Every individual achieves perfection and triumph, much like Gabbar Singh Negi, by dedicating themselves to assigned duties that align with their innate abilities and propensities. The hope, as prescribed in these holy teachings, lies in the unyielding pursuit of one’s mission.

A more relevant example of this Gita verse – emphasizing tenacity, determination, and unwavering hope - doesn't arise better than through the most recent instance of the incredible Silkyara Tunnel rescue operation. A group of determined workers, much like Gabbar Singh Negi, were committed to the operation in this tunnel, dedicated to drilling through the barriers that had trapped several individuals within its depths.

The rescue operation, much like a tough, demanding mining task, required persistence, capability, and faith – the very essence of Gabbar Singh Negi. During the nerve-wracking operation, they drilled and toiled tirelessly, determined to reach the trapped individuals, after the tunnel had unfortunately collapsed around them.

This rescue operation, resonating with the show of strength that mirrored Gabbar Singh Negi, shone as a beacon of hope for those involved in such mining duties, thus providing a potent example of the Bhagavad Gita reiteration - success is achieved by perseverance, steadfast commitment to one’s duty, embodying hope, and showcasing the natural abilities and disposition of the workers, like Gabbar Singh Negi did.

Learnings from Silkyara Tunnel Rescue: Teamwork Saves Lives!

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Raging Rat Miners

I was previously unaware of the skilled workers known as Rat Miners until they demonstrated their prowess by completing the final stretch of manual tunneling in record time, rescuing 41 trapped workers. Their strength and determination were recognized and applauded worldwide, despite their profession not being glamorous or particularly lucrative. The task, which high-tech machines failed to accomplish, was made possible by these Rat Miners, a testament to their inspiring capabilities.

When the auger machine malfunctioned, 12 Rat Miners from Bundelkhand were called upon to manually drill in the silkyara tunnel. The initial group of three Rat Miners entered the pipe and crawled through the debris on the night of Monday, November 27th, during the tunnel rescue operation. One person dug, another loaded the debris into a trolley, and a third managed the trolley on a shaft from which it was extracted. On average, they managed to dig 0.9 meters per hour, with a fresh group of three replacing them approximately every hour. By 3pm on Tuesday, they had drilled 12-13 meters to reach the trapped workers.

As William J. Brennan, Jr. once said, "There are no menial jobs, only menial attitudes". Despite the ban on rat hole mining, these workers patiently took on odd jobs and made significant efforts when it mattered most. This situation serves as a lesson in positive thinking, demonstrating that any job can be meaningful with the right attitude.

There are additional noteworthy individuals and lessons to be gleaned from this tunnel rescue operation. We will explore some of these in this blog.

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Positive Leadership

The 41 trapped workers, including the foreman Gabbar Singh Negi, were finally freed from the collapsed Silkyara tunnel after enduring 17 long and arduous days in an underground prison. The conditions they faced were unimaginably unliveable, with a lack of proper food and no communication with the outside world for most of their harrowing ordeal. Such circumstances would test the strength and resilience of even the strongest individuals, calling for a leader who could guide them through the darkness and uncertainty.

In this dire situation, Gabbar Singh Negi stepped up as an extraordinary foreman, providing the much-needed leadership and inspiration to his colleagues. Despite being one of the trapped workers himself, Gabbar Singh Negi remained a pillar of hope, teaching yoga and meditation to his companions and ensuring their physical and mental well-being. He reassured them that they would all be rescued and made a powerful commitment to their safety by vowing to be the last to be brought to safety.

Gabbar Singh Negi's calm and positive leadership, along with his unwavering efforts to instill hope and maintain high morale, played a crucial role in enabling all 41 workers to endure the hardships with unwavering hope and determination. As a result, despite the enormity of the disaster, all 41 individuals emerged from the tunnel with smiles on their faces and only a few minor injuries. This incredible outcome can be credited, in no small part, to the tireless efforts of Gabbar Singh Negi, who skillfully managed to keep a potentially catastrophic situation under control.

Several of the rescued workers have spoken about the emotional support provided by Gabbar Singh Negi throughout their ordeal. He not only kept them safe and happy but also fostered a sense of togetherness among them by engaging in activities like playing ludo, chess and and chorpolice. It is clear that his positive leadership and dedication had a profound impact on the overall well-being of the group.

It is often said that true leaders practice the three 'R's': Respect for Self, Respect for Others, and Responsibility for all their actions. Being POSITIVE in a negative situation is not naïve, It is LEADERSHIP.

Gabbar Singh Negi exemplified these qualities through his unwavering strength, tireless efforts, and positive leadership, which ultimately led to the successful rescue of all 41 workers from the treacherous depths of the Silkyara tunnel.

In times of crisis, being positive may seem naive to some, but it is, in fact, the essence of true leadership. Gabbar Singh Negi's remarkable display of strength and positive leadership in the face of a negative situation serves as a powerful reminder that true leaders have the ability to guide others through the darkest times with hope, determination, and unwavering resolve.

Leading from the Front

There are few striking lessons in leadership from the way the Australian tunnelling expert Arnold Dix guided the Silkyara Tunnel rescue operation.

Arnold Dix, a geologist, engineer, and lawyer, leads the Geneva-based International Tunnelling Underground Space Association. He was brought in by the Government of India to provide technical advice during the tunnel rescue operation, contributing his expertise to the success of the operation.

Leadership is Leading from the Front

From the moment he arrived at the rescue site, Arnold was seen leading from the front, demonstrating positive leadership and effectively managing the crisis. He did not limit himself to providing advisory from the comfort of his room but was on-site daily, coordinating with various rescue agencies and offering his suggestions at the field.

Have Confidence in Your Team’s Abilities

Arnold assumed leadership of the team, about whom he knew nothing, but that never posed an issue. His confidence in the mission and his leadership lessons inspired the multi-dimensional rescue team, showcasing unity in diversity and believing in others. He confidently predicted that all 41 workers who were trapped would be rescued safely and would reunite with their families before Christmas. Have confidence in your strength and your team’s abilities and keep reiterating that commitment and efforts.

Humility, a Trait of a Great Leader

After the successful conclusion of the silkyara tunnel rescue operation, I watched his interview. His humility, a trait of a great leader, was inspiring. He credited the successful operation to the competence and commitment of the various teams involved, highlighting the unity in diversity. He stated, "If national agencies hadn't cooperated the way they did, there's no way we would have got this outcome. We were all one big team."

“A good leader is a person who takes a little more than his share of the blame, and a little less than his share of the credit.” – John Maxwell

In the face of the crisis, his strength and guidance shone through as he meticulously orchestrated the efforts to rescue those trapped in the silkyara tunnel. The tunnel rescue operation showcased his unwavering determination to ensure the safety and well-being of every individual involved. His ability to lead with humility and inspire unity in diversity was truly remarkable.

Highlighting the importance of teamwork, he acknowledged the collaborative strength of various national agencies to overcome the challenges posed by the crisis. Their combined efforts and cooperation were vital in achieving the successful outcome of the rescue operation. His leadership, characterized by giving credit where it is due, further emphasized his outstanding qualities as a great leader.

Reflecting on the interview, I couldn't help but admire his ability to gracefully share the spotlight, attributing the success to the collective efforts of the entire team.

Great Leadership Lesson

The silkyara tunnel rescue operation, aimed at rescuing the individuals trapped within it, was a display of immense strength, skills, and efforts. The team, fully aware of the gravity of the crisis, meticulously planned and strategized to ensure the success of the mission.

To tackle the situation, the team employed a well-thought-out multi-pronged strategy. One aspect involved swiftly establishing a 4" pipeline to send basic food to the individuals in need. Simultaneously, they also worked on a 6" pipe capable of transporting solid food in bottles, as well as cameras and messages to maintain crucial communication.

Understanding that time was of the essence, the team proceeded with both horizontal and vertical drilling concurrently. This synchronized approach showcased their expertise and dedication to swiftly reach those in distress. However, during the operation, an unforeseen obstacle arose when the auger machine got stuck, impeding mechanized drilling from progressing further.

In light of this setback, decisive action was taken. The team relied on an unconventional and innovative solution—the use of rat-miners. Leveraging their unique abilities, they assisted in making progress where machinery fell short. The decision to employ this strategy was one that showcased the team's adaptability and resourcefulness in the face of adversity.

Although decisions were made collectively by multiple stakeholders, it is essential to recognize and credit Arnold for his exceptional guidance and decision-making throughout the rescue mission. His leadership provided valuable lessons and was integral to the ultimate success of the operation.

Throughout the entire process, the strength of the team's collective efforts shone through. Their commitment to saving lives and overcoming obstacles demonstrated a remarkable level of dedication and perseverance. They exemplified the mantra of expecting the best, planning for the worst, and remaining prepared to be surprised when it matters most.

Stay Humble and Grateful

After the successful tunnel rescue operation, Arnold was seen showing gratitude at the temple of local deity Baba Bokh Naag ji. When asked about this, he said "the mission witnessed a miracle and he had promised to say 'thank you' at the temple when the operation was going on."


The successful tunnel rescue operation at the Silkyara Tunnel was a remarkable display of unity in diversity and a testament to Arnold's positive leadership and humility. Throughout the entire operation, Arnold consistently acknowledged and credited the success to the strength, efforts, and unwavering commitment of the teams involved. It was evident that a multi-pronged strategy was employed, ensuring that every possible angle, including the efforts of foreman Gabbar Singh Negi, was considered and addressed. Decisive actions were taken promptly whenever the crisis demanded it, showcasing Arnold's ability to make quick and effective decisions under pressure.

Furthermore, it is worth mentioning that Arnold's gratitude was not only expressed verbally but also demonstrated through actions. After the operation concluded, he made a point to visit a local temple, where he offered his sincere thanks and appreciation for the successful outcome. This gesture not only highlighted Arnold's humility but also served as a reminder of the importance of acknowledging and showing gratitude to the higher powers or entities that may have played a role in the operation's success.

Overall, the tunnel rescue operation at the Silkyara Tunnel served as a powerful example of how unity, diversity, humility, competence, commitment, strategic planning, and decisive actions, along with the contributions of foreman Gabbar Singh Negi, can all come together to achieve remarkable results. It was a true testament to Arnold's exceptional leadership skills and their ability to bring out the best in their team. The operation's success, which involved the rescue of trapped individuals, will undoubtedly be remembered as a shining moment in the history of rescue missions, inspiring others to strive for excellence and unity in their own endeavours.

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S Bhavadharani
  • 2024-01-12 11:52:45
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