14-year-old dam too young to breach: Experts
Two days after Tiware dam in Chiplun district of Ratnagiri, with a storage capacity of 20 lakh cubic metres, breached, washing away the hamlet of Bhendewadi in Tiware village, killing 18 villagers, the quality of material used to build the dam is being brought into question by experts.
The breach which took place on Tuesday night, swept away 12 houses and five residents are still missing.
On Thursday, senior officials of the state’s water resource department visited the dam and inspected the site, following allegations of “neglect” and “shoddy work”.
Experts said 14 years is too short a time span for a dam to develop a breach, the heavy rain and rush of water fed into the dam storage area by rivulets overflowing from the region’s hills, notwithstanding.
Vijay Pandhare, an ex-senior bureaucrat from the Maharahstra irrigation department, said, “The dam was built either with a faulty design or inferior material. Maharashtra has dams which are 100-years old and yet standing tall.”
“The Tiware dam breached after just 14 years. Such a breach is only possible when the contractor uses inferior material, or officials did not pay attention to technical aspects,” Pandhare added. The Tiware dam was built by Shiv Sena MLA Sadanand Chavan’s firm Khemaraj. Chavan accepted that dam was built by the firm, which he insists is owned by his brother. “It is a fact the dam was built by a company owned by my brother, but there is politics after the tragedy.”
A major portion of the wall near Tiware jack well that gave in.
Chavan said after the dam was built, the responsibility of maintenance was with the Khemaraj firm for one year.
“Later, it was handed over to the respective department. If the local residents were complaining about leakages, then its the responsibility of that particular officer to look into this matter,” said Chavan.
In February 2019, local resident Ajit Chavan wrote a letter to the irrigation department complaining about a leakage at the dam. While water resource department officials claimed they carried out repair work, the dam breached when the area witnessed 149 mm rainfall between Monday and Tuesday.
To probe alleged lapses, water resource minister Girish Mahajan announced the constitution of a special investigation team (SIT) which will now investigate the quality of work as well.
Suresh Shirke, former director-general, Water and Land Management Institute, also former superintendent engineer of the Ratnagiri irrigation division, said in his view, safety and security of dam is the responsibility of the superintendent engineer. “Besides the firm which built the dam, the officer can’t escape the responsibility as well,” says Shirke.
The Congress party, however, has demanded action against Chavan saying he should be booked for culpable homicide. “A police case should be filed against Sena MLA Sadanand Chavan as his firm did not construct the dam properly, leading to the death of many people,” said a Congress statement at the state legislative assembly on Thursday.