Tunnel that diverts Kishanganga river develops ‘seepage’ the night before turbine is commissioned
Mantrigam (Bandipora): 90-year-old Safdar Khan, who is blind and can barely hear, was startled by the unexpected activity in his house at 8 in the evening on Sunday. At first, his grandchildren and two daughters-in-law raised a huge cry, and then his two sons asked him to come with them out of the house, “as water has started to enter the village”.
“I refused and stayed back in the home. It would have been really difficult for me to keep pace with them, especially in the night, and it would have endangered their life,” Safdar Khan told Kashmir Reader.
On Sunday at 8pm, water from the Kishanganga river, which has been diverted from Gurez via a 30-kilometre-long tunnel towards Bandipora for the 330MW power generation plant, due to some “leakage” found its way into Chack Mantrigam village, located right below the tunnel and adjacent to the project powerhouse.
Some fifty meters from Safdar’s’ house lives his 80-year-old brother Mohammad Younis Khan. Though he can move with help of a walking stick, he, too, told his sons to flee with their children and wives to safer places and himself stayed back home. The only conversation that followed “amid the roaring sound of the water” was his occasional shouts directed at the house of his elder brother: “Are you safe?”
Chack Mantrigam village consists of almost three-hundred houses, with 800 children in them. All of them were gripped in “fear of death” on Sunday when river water started to trickle into the village from the hill above, acquiring the shape of a stream within no time.
“I was inside my home with my family preparing dinner, when a sudden roar of water reached our ears,” said Mohammad Lateef Khan, a resident. “We immediately began to check for the cause. In a short while, all the villagers had gathered outside to inquire into what was happening.”
‘Our worst nightmare turned real when officials of HCC (Hindustan Construction Company) came in a vehicle and ordered us to vacate the village immediately. They said the tunnel was crumbling,” Lateef said.
A villager, Riyaz, identified the officials as SP Singh, HCC Project Manager; Anurag, HCC Mechanical Engineer; and Abdul Rashid, Station House Officer of the area’s police station.
When the official warning reached villagers, a hue and cry began with some running towards forests and others leaving for another village to stay the night. “We set our animals free and many of us stayed in the village periphery under the open sky for the whole night. Many spent the night huddled in bushes and in the forest in the freezing cold. Many of the children have now fallen ill,” said Lateef and other villagers who were with him.
A middle school in the village, where 200 children studied, has been shut for two days, given the threat of the deluge, locals said.
The following day, when the villagers protested against the authorities, they were threatened and intimidated.
“The top officer of HCC didn’t listen to our pleas while the General Manager of NHPC (National Hydro Power Corporation) assured that there was no threat to us. But the water level has only been increasing. Who should we believe and how can we trust them?” Khamim Turk Gujjar asked. The villagers accompanying him said that the “administration was befooling us by saying that these were dried springs that had started flowing again”.
Villagers said that they may have no choice now but to vacate the village to safeguard themselves.
General Manager NHPC, Amresh Kumar, told Kashmir Reader that “testing of the tunnel filling process is going on”.
“During this process, some seepage has been observed. The water has been found oozing out from the HRT hill slope towards the road below that leads to our turbine site. Right now we are observing it and we have taken some corrective steps. These include diverting the turbine water into the stream to protect the hill slope,” he said.
He said it will take 10-15 days to stop the seepage and that people should not panic, as the safety of the public and their property remains paramount for NHPC.
On Monday, one unit of the Kishanganga power project amounting to 110MW of the total 330MW capacity was commissioned on Monday. To accommodate the water diverted from Kishanganga river, the authorities are still widening and walling streams like the Bonar Nalla and Madhumati in Bandipora district.