ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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From 50 Years Ago: Bhakra Disaster.

Editorial from Volume XI, No 35, August 29, 1959.

The execution of the colossal Bhakra dam project has not been entrusted to construc-tion companies. The project is being executed by a Board the members of which are largely drawn from the Punjab service of engineers. It is the outstanding example of departmen-tal execution of a major project in this coun-try. Departmental execution, however, does not mean that the project has been planned and designed by people primarily drawn from the Punjab Irrigation Department. Far from it. The project had the benefit of the best technical advice, and also the highest paid, available anywhere in the ‘free world’. Now accidents are by definition non-pre-ventible. Bhakra had its own crop of problems, as formidable as any, that are likely to be en-countered in the execution of a major project of this type. At a fairly early stage, the problem that had to be faced was that of working on soft rock instead of hard granite. Whether the grouting was done without exhaustive soil research or not, and whether the other technical problems were fully studied and mastered in advance, and enough care was taken to cope with all the technical problems that could conceivably arise – these must be some of the questions which will engage the attention of the Committee of Enquiry which has been so promptly set up to investigate the cause of the disaster which has overwhelmed the country. It would be idle to deny that the latter continues to cause deep con-cern, despite the over-reassuring statement is-sued by the Minister of Irrigation and Power. To refer to the damage to the Hoist Chamber and the consequent flooding of the Power House re-sulting in ten deaths as a ‘disaster’, when the Minister in question describes it only as a ‘mis-hap’ is not necessarily to raise a scare, however, but only to use what appears to be the more ap-propriate term, considering the extent of the damage and the loss of life. It would be inexcus-able to exploit what may well turn out to be just an accident on investigation, to cast any doubts or reflection on the quality of the work done at Bhakra or on the method of handling of such projects in the country. That the execution of the project has been undertaken departmentally lends itself particularly to this type of misrepre-sentation which should be guarded against.

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