Navi Mumbai: Leaky dam puts 1,000 lives at risk

Updated: Aug 02, 2018, 13:11 IST | Anurag Kamble

Locals write to NMMC warning that British-era Digha reservoir is a disaster waiting to happen for residents

Navi Mumbai: Leaky dam puts 1,000 lives at risk
Hundreds of people living at the foot of the dam are in danger

Nearly 1,000 residents living at the foot of the Digha reservoir in Airoli are in danger of being washed away by the British-era railway dam. Water is gushing out from large leaks in the dam, but the Central Railway has made no attempt to repair it.

The residents of Airoli had once hoped that the water in the Digha reservoir would keep them afloat during droughts. Instead, the over-a-century-old dam could end up drowning them, if the authorities don’t step up and begin repairs right away.

As the reservoir is leaking and hasn't been repaired. Pics/Rajesh Gupta
As the reservoir is leaking and hasn't been repaired. Pics/Rajesh Gupta

Cracks of doom
Recently, several cracks have appeared in the embankment, and the wall is constantly wet from the water trickling continuously. If the dam crumbles any further, it could wash away hundreds of homes — legal and illegal — located at the foot of the dam. As many as 1,000 residents in Kalyan Nagar, Ilthan Pada and Vishnu Nagar face displacement or even death.

Vijay Lilke, member of the ward committee in the Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC), said, "I have written to the Corporation citing this danger, but nothing has been done. Authorities are waiting for a disaster." NMMC told mid-day that although the dam falls in their jurisdiction, it is under CR’s control. But the railways has shown no inclination to repair the dam, which once provided water for steam engines, as well as the construction of the Parsik tunnel.

It will unleash all the water on the homes below. Pics/Rajesh Gupta
It will unleash all the water on the homes below. Pics/Rajesh Gupta

Older than memory
The embankment has not been used or repaired in years, and officials aren’t even sure how old it is. CR officials estimate it is at least 150 years old. "I don’t know what historical records say, but my grandparents had told me that it was built by the British as they needed water for the construction of Parsik tunnel, as well as for steam engines," said Lilke.

"As far as I remember, the reservoir was unused in the last 25 years, except for a couple of times when water was drawn for the crematorium. But there is no maintenance by either CR or NMMC."

NMMC wants it
The reservoir is spread across 14 acres and is popularly known as Khandi lake among locals. The NMMC had reckoned that it can supply at least 5 million litres per day (MLD) to local settlements, providing great respite during the long, dry summer months. "In 2016, local MP Rajan Vichare had taken up the issue with the railway minister, requesting a handover of the reservoir, which can provide water to not just NMMC but also the Thane Municipal Corporation. But the proposal is stuck in red tape," said a local representative.

No. of acres the reservoir is spread across

Million litres per day the reservoir can supply

Years NMMC has been requesting handover

Residents at risk of being washed away

Estimated age of Digha dam (in years)

Residents uneasy

Umesh Dangre

Umesh Dangre‘The reservoir gets filled rapidly when it starts raining. You can see already water is gushing out from the wall at three spots. We live just 500 m away; if the wall breaks, it will wreak havoc’

Vishal Dangre

Vishal Dangre
‘Whenever it starts raining heavily, we start watching the reservoir. It has weakened at many places, and our lives are at risk’

Rakesh Salunkhe
Rakesh Salunkhe‘The reservoir is unmanned; nobody takes care of it. Many picnickers have drowned here. Someone should keep an eye out’

Dr N Ramaswami, NMMC commissioner, said, "The dam hasn’t been handed over to the Corporation yet, but we have a pipeline in place and arrangements to use the water for tree plantations nearby." Vidyadhar Malegaonkar, additional divisional railways manager (Central), said, "We will have to check our records before we can comment on who is responsible and the provisions for this reservoir."

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