Mumbai: After torrential rains in Ratnagiri on Tuesday, there was a lethal breach in the Tiware dam near Bhendwadi, which flooded villages close to the catchment area and swept away at least 30 people, of whom 11 have died; one was found alive and 19 are missing, officials said on Wednesday.
Also, there is a flood-like situation in Owali, Riktoli, Aakle, Dadar, Nandivse, Kalkavne and seven other villages. In view of the lurking danger, the police have moved villagers to safety, said the additional superintendent of police, Ratnagiri, Vishal Gaikwad.
The district authorities have retrieved 11 bodies in the vicinity of the dam but it is feared that the final toll would be much more.
It was dinner time and as is the tradition in villages, all members of the family had gathered for a meal. However, water came gushing in and they were swept away before they could bat an eyelid.
The tragedy occurred in the jurisdiction of the Alore Shirgaon police station on July 2, around 9.30pm. Incessant rains had ensured the dam was bursting at the seams and overflowing by 8.30pm.
Villagers who had seen the leak in the dam alerted the others. However, within an hour, the breach had given way to the surging waters and submerged the villages in low-lying areas.
Around 12 houses in the catchment area are said to have been washed away. National Disaster Response Force teams from Pune and Sindhudurg have been rushed to the spot.
So have the superintendent of police and the district collector. A police officer said rescue operations were hampered initially due to darkness and the sudden surge of water.
After the Dadar Bridge was submerged, the villages had lost their link to Chiplun. Tiware dam falls in the jurisdiction of the minor irrigation section of Dapoli and was constructed in 2000.
It has a capacity of 20 lakh cubic litres. But, in the last 19 years, no repair or maintenance work has been carried out. Relatives of the victims said they had asked the district administration to repair the dam as they had spotted cracks in November last year.
However, there was an issue of jurisdiction – whether Tiware dam falls in Chiplun or Dapoli tehsil. Result: no one paid heed to the application of the villagers, pointed out a family member of one of the deceased.
"It is only because of their negligence that we have seen this day," he said. "My parents, wife and one-and-a-half-year old child are missing," he added. "My brother, who had gone to bring his vehicle did not return," he said.
Water from the dam is used for drinking and irrigation purposes. Two years ago it was detected that the dam was leaking and there was a hole near the main door. The breach worsened in 2018 but the authorities continued to turn a Nelson’s eye to the villagers' complaints.
Opposition parties have accused the local bodies of deliberately failing to carry out repairs. Sadanand Chavan, the Shiv Sena legislator, had surveyed the area with the local administration last year but no action was taken.
"Villagers have been asked to be vigilant," said Chavan, adding, "Officials had turned a blind eye to the villagers' concerns."
More shockingly, the company that built the dam, Khemraj Construction, is owned by Chavan's brother, Santosh. Sadanand too was a partner until a few years ago.
In his defence, he said, the dam was constructed with mud and is over 19 years; so, it was a disaster waiting to happen. The opposition said, a first information report should be filed against Sadanand and he should be arrested. Maharashtra Water Resources Minister Girish Mahajan said villagers in the area had complained of cracks in the dam. "...
The state government will find out at which level there was negligence and necessary action will be taken accordingly," he said. New homes will be constructed in safe places for those villagers whose abodes were washed away, he said. A compensation of Rs 4 lakh will be given to the kin of each of the deceased person, he added.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has ordered an inquiry into the incident. "The reason for the breach will be probed and action would be taken against the guilty expeditiously," the chief minister said. Fadnavis contacted the district administration and took stock of the relief and rescue operations, an official statement said.