Rescuers are finding it difficult to make further progress inside a tunnel of the disaster-hit Tapovan project in Uttarakhands Chamoli district due the presence of water and sludge.
A total of 58 bodies have been recovered so far. Due to the presence of water and sludge inside the tunnel, the excavation work is being hampered, said state DGP Ashok Kumar. However, he said the recue operation would continue till the last man or body is found inside the tunnel.
Two bodies were found inside the tunnel early on Tuesday morning. “The rescue operation is going on at a slow pace due to the presence of heavy sludge and also as a precautionary measure,” a top government official said.
An NTPC official said the tunnel has already been dug at a level of 160 metres inside.
During the excavation work inside the tunnel, 11 bodies have been found so far. “We are expecting more bodies as we are not hoping for survivors now,” admitted the official. There is still no contact with the remaining trapped people inside.
The rescuers are working at two locations – one inside the tunnel and other at the remains of the Rishiganga project in Reni. Sniffer dogs are also being used in the rescue operation near Reni village.
After days of digging and excavation work, jawans of the army, ITBP, NDRF and SDRF, who are engaged in the rescue works, have managed open a sizeable portion of the tunnel.
NTPC Limited on Wednesday said it is yet to make an assessment of the damage caused by the Feb 7 deluge to its 520 Mw Tapovan-Vishnugad hydel project.
After his recent visit to Tapovan, Union Minister of State for Power R.K Singh had earlier put an estimated loss of Rs 1500 crore for the project which was nearing its completion when the disaster struck.
“At the moment our focus is entirely on the rescue operation. We will make an assessment of the damages at a later stage,” said R.P. Ahirwal, General Manager of the NTPC Tapovan Project. The project was slated to be commissioned in 2023. After the deluge, the fate of the project hangs in balance.
It is not the first time that NTPC has suffered big losses in the hydropower sector in the hill state. In 2009, the centre had scrapped its 600 Mw Loharinagpala project on environmental and religious grounds related to the holy river Bhagirathi after late IIT Kanpur Prof G D Agarwal had staged fast unto death. NTPC had invested around Rs 650 crore in the project when it was stopped.
NTPC’s Tapovan-Vishnugad project had suffered considerable damage as the heavy floods coupled with entire debris of the 13.2 Mw Rishiganga project, which was the first to be destroyed in the upstream, rammed into it blocking the entire intake adit tunnel. “There are damages. We can only say this,” said Ahirwal.
At present, NTPC is focusing on the rescue operation. So far, the mucking in intake adit tunnel has reached 160 meters, Ahirwal said. “We have also dug a hole for going vertically down which is as big as 300 mm in diameter and 12 meter deep. We are in touch with top scientists to take help and suggest measures,” Ahirwal said. “The water level in the bore hole is under observation,” he said.
Ahirwal said more than 325 personnel including engineers, officers, geologists, scientists, security officials from NTPC, THDC, CISF and other associates are at the site and constantly engaged in rescue operations. There is also continuous support from the district administration and organisations such as ITBP, BRO, NDRF, SDRF, Army, state PWD, SJVN and RVNL.
As the Tapovan project faces an uncertain future, environmentalists such as Suresh Bhai have called for a review of the NTPC project on environmental grounds.