The ruptured water pipeline that washed away four people engaged in central Assam’s Kopili hydroelectric project on October 7 was repaired a year ago, raising questions about the quality of the work.
The four people remained untraced 48 hours after the disaster struck at about 6.30 a.m. Three of them were identified as Robert Baite, Prem Pal Balmiki and Joy Sing Timung — all employees of the North Eastern Electric Power Corporation (NEEPCO) that runs the 275 MW Kopili project.
The fourth was employed by a firm engaged in tunnel repair work.
“We are trying out best to check the inflow of water and sort things out within a day or two so that the powerhouse is approachable. This is not a normal situation and it is difficult to assess the damage until and unless we start restoring the system,” project manager Debotosh Bhattacharjee said.
A project technician, declining to be quoted, said that they have been struggling to block the intake point of the penstock pipe that burst. The pipe had been carrying water from the NEEPCO reservoir to the Kopili powerhouse at 12,000 litres per second.
A lot of the water entered the powerhouse, forcing the officials to shut it down. The three NEEPCO employees were said to have been washed away from the powerhouse.
“Apart from our own people, a team of the State Disaster Response Force is standing by to help find the missing people,” Mr. Bhattacharjee said.
The family members of the missing employees said they were losing hope by the hour. One of them blamed NEEPCO for slack maintenance, leading to the disaster.
Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People quoted a NEEPCO statement that said the penstock pipes and tunnels at Kopili were repaired a year ago. “If that was the case, who executed the repairs and who certified the adequacy of such repairs? These and many such questions are destined to remain unanswered going by the experience of past dam-related disasters,” he said.
One such disaster happened on October 9, 1963, at Vajont dam in Italy, killing at least 2,000 people.
The Kopili hydroelectric project in Dima Hasao district has two concrete gravity barriers — the 66m tall Khandong dam on the Kopili River and the 30m Kopili dam on its tributary Umrang stream located at Umrangso.
Water from the Khandong reservoir is utilised in the Khandong power station through a 2,852 m long tunnel to generate 50 MW of power. The tail water from this powerhouse is led to the Umrong reservoir. The water from Umrong reservoir is taken through a 5,473 m long tunnel to the Kopili power station to generate 200 MW of power.
An additional 25 MW was added to the Khandong dam in Stage 2 of the Kopli project to make the total capacity 275 MW in July 2004. The work on the project started in 1976 and its first unit was commissioned in March 1984.