Local officials have blamed the heavy rains in the area that caused a massive mud slide and the consequent collapse of a 190-meter shaft in an tunnel of the Tehri dam and hydroelectric project. But independent reports from the area suggest that construction work was being carried out round the clock as the contractor, Jay Prakash Associates, New Delhi, rushed towards a September deadline to complete this Tunnel No. 3 of the 2,400-MW Tehri hydroelectric project.

Work on 190 m out of the proposed 220-m shaft or spillway has already been completed, local sources say. More than 80 workers were in tunnel No. 3 of the project at the time of the accident. Over 50 of them were rescued, some of them with injuries.


“Heavy rains are a regular feature in this area. The shaft was expected to withstand a much higher amount of rainfall than what has taken place. There must be some other reason, possibly some construction problem. I am also surprised the government is not taking the contractor to task for getting work done inside the tunnel in the midst of torrential rains,” a local engineer says.

R.D. Prabhakar, executive director of Tehri Hydro Development Corp., the central government agency implementing the $1.3-billion project, said there is no danger to the 260.5-m-high Tehri Dam. N.D. Tiwari, chief minister of the state of Uttranchal visited the site, and ordered a magisterial inquiry into the disaster.

The central government in New Delhi ordered a probe as soon as the initial reports of the accident came in Aug. 3. But observers doubt its independence. Two of the three members of the investigation team belong to the Central Water Commission and the Central Electricity Authority, the same bodies that had earlier declared the project to be viable and safe.

Heading the investigation team will be M.S. Reddy, former chairman of CWC, who once headed the Ministry of Water Resources. The investigators have been asked to look for the cause of the accident, find out lapses that may have taken place and suggest possible measures to prevent recurrence of such incidents. They are to submit their report within one month.

he collapse of a tunnel shaft in which 29 workers died has raised serious questions about the safety of Asia’s highest dam nestled in the Himalayan region, as well as the quality of monitoring by the central government agency responsible for supervising the design and construction work.