Thursday, August 28, 2008

The day we demolished a dam with our bare hands!

It was the rain season of 2003- my friend Madhukar had completed the construction of an earthen dam in Village Madagan with lots of trouble. The dam was some 80 meters long and was constructed at a very suitable site, but deemed unfit earlier because of the rocks in the place. It took almost a year, more than 5000 man hours, a bulldozer and finally an earth excavator to build the dam which would feed the parched fields of some 100 banjara (nomadic tribe) families and bring them out of the clutches of poverty. When it was completed, it was a cause of celebration- both to us, the team at PRADAN and more to the villagers for whom it was nothing short of a dream come true.

Then, in July 2003, Madhukar went away for a training program to Delhi. Our team leader was also not present that day in office when in the afternoon some villagers from Madagan came rushing and told that the because of continuous rains, the dam is full up to the brink and if it rains any further, the water would flow over the dam, breaching its bund and reducing it into a heap of rubble.

I asked Laxman, a civil engineer by profession (who had joined the same week) to come with me for an inspection of the site. We reached there in about an hour through muddy grounds and found that villagers were right indeed. The water level was only about a feet below the top of the dam. It was surprising as there was a provision of a spillway, that acts as safety valve for the dam to let the water flow out safely and effortlessly after dam gets filled up to a particular level, making sure that the water never reaches the top of the dam. Then why was it happening?
To find out, we went to the spillway to find that the local contractor working on the dam had made the level of the floor of the spill way higher than what it should have been. this and the reason that the soil of the dam had compacted during the rains were the reason for the current situation.

We were in a dilemma what to do- remaking the spillway would take a lot of time and may be by then the dam itself would be breached. The villagers were looking at us, waiting for our decision. Since I was older in the organization- the responsibility came to me to ensure the safety of the dam.

I had once asked about the cost of the dam to Madhukar and he had told me that it was some where around 200,000 rupees. He had also told me that the spillway had cost us some 14,000 rupees. Under the circumstances, the natural thought came to me- to sacrifice a 14,000 rupees structure to save the bigger, 200,000 rupees structure.

I concluded that we will have to demolish the floor of spillway. But how? It was made of stones with a plaster of cement concrete on the floor and sides. Getting laborers or explosives to break it was impossible as the day was setting.

I had a quick look at the floor of the spill way and thought - may be we can break it. But how? There was no implements (spades etc) available. We were quite far from the village. I saw a rock lying on one side of spillway and decided to try breaking floor with it. I raised it high over my head with both my hands and slammed it on the floor with all my might- lo and behold!

There was a crack in the floor- thanks to the poor work done by the local contractor! Another try -more cracks! Then I decided that this is how to do it- break the floor with the rocks and then pull out the stone under the floor to make the spillway deeper. Laxman also helped me out- and we started demolishing the spillway of the dam with our bare hands!

Sometime later, a few villagers passing by saw us working to save their dam- they lent us their hand and some of them even got the spades from the village after a while. Before sundown, the floor of the spillway was broken totally- mostly through the bare hands of me and my colleague. The stone of its floor were excavated and soon the water was flowing out of the dam smoothly as originally designed. Villagers around us were smiling ear to ear and so were we.

After all, who gets an opportunity to demolish a dam with their bare hands every other day?


नितिन बागला said...

Great to see some good read here after so many day...(months)
Keep writing more regularly

Goli said...

that is a great story, also lot of appreciation for the work that you guys do.

Prudence said...

Interesting to know.

GPY said...

This is Gaurav Pandey , see world is so small. Remember me???
Give me your cell number, my email is