At least 14 people were killed and another nine reported missing after several houses in Chiplun taluka of Ratnagiri district in Maharashtra were swept away when the wall of the Tiware dam breached Tuesday night following heavy rain over the last 48 hours.
The Tiware dam, located off the Karad-Chiplun Road, had undergone major repairs just two months ago but around 5 pm Tuesday, a minor irrigation tank, constructed only in 2004, started leaking again. Amid the incessant rain, the dam breached around 9.30 pm, flooding seven villages downstream.
According to an initial investigation report submitted to the state government, almost the whole length of the dam was washed away.
Tide also swept away around 12 houses in the Bhendewadi hamlet which has 24 inhabitants. Further downstream, six more villages or hamlets with a population of around 3,000 were surrounded by water and physically cut-off. The affected villages or hamlets are Owali, Riktoli, Aakale, Daadar, Nandivase and Kalakavane.
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Local police, fire brigade and the district administration dispatched teams to the spot which along with local residents started the search for those missing around midnight. At least 30 more people living in high-risk areas have been evacuated.
The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) was called in – one NDRF team stationed in neighbouring Sindhudurg district and five from the headquarters of 5th Battalion of the NDRF in Pune – and reached the area Wednesday around 7.30 am.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has ordered a high-level probe and Water Resources Minister Girish Mahajan, who visited the area Wednesday, announced that strict action will be initiated against officials found responsible.
“People have lost their lives. Why did the dam breach? Were there deficiencies in the dam structure? What sort of repairs were carried out? Was there negligence in carrying out works? All this will be a part of the inquiry ordered by the Chief Minister,” said Mahajan.
Ratnagiri’s Additional SP Vishal Gaikwad said, “The entire wall of the dam has been completely demolished by the strong force of water collected in the rivulet from numerous streams in the mountainous region. In the flooding it caused, houses in Bhendewadi hamlet, located around 300 meters from the dam were washed away. We launched search and rescue around midnight. NDRF has joined in the morning.”
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By Wednesday night, rescuers had recovered 14 bodies. NDRF deputy commandant Sachchidanand Gawade, who is heading search operation, said, “Until now, 14 bodies have been taken out. Our teams are conducting visual searches downstream. After the initial flash flood like situation, water flow is now normal. The operation will be called off in low light and will continue in the morning.”
Asked whether the 20-year-old dam was due for repairs, Ratnagiri district collector Sunil Chavan said, “Our priority right now is search, rescue and safety of people. But these aspects will be certainly probed, adding that “Based on complaints received or if there are orders from the government, a probe will be conducted.”
Pratap Shinde, a local resident, said, “Villagers had complained to the irrigation department about the cracks developing in the dam wall. There was a hole in the wall from where water was continuously flowing out. In May, irrigation officials made some temporary repairs with which the villagers were not happy. They had just filled the hole with soil. The dam structure had also developed cracks.”
The dam was constructed 20 years ago on the rivulet which is a tributary of Vashishthi river. The dam capacity is 0.08 TMC (thousand million cubic feet) and collects water from the hilly region of the Western Ghats in Ratnagiri and Satara districts.
After an inspection on May 9 by the local water conservation department, engineers confirmed the damage to the dam and the district water conservation officer undertook major repairs on May 20.
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“The damaged portion was refilled in the presence of villagers,” says the report submitted to the state government.
On the basis of the report, questions are now being raised on the quality of the repairs. “Prima facie, it appears that while the refilling was carried out, it wasn’t compacted well,” said a senior official involved in rescue operations.
Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly Vijay Wadettiwar alleged that a firm led by a local Shiv Sena legislator carried out the construction. “People have lost lives due to the negligence of the government. A case of murder should be lodged against the government itself,” he said. “The dam was constructed in 2004 only,” he pointed out. The Congress has also demanded a structural assessment of all dams in Maharashtra.
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