A catastrophic incident unfolded in the serene neighborhood of Kharguli in Guwahati on May 25, when a Gammon JICA water supply main line pipe burst, unleashing a destructive surge of water. The aftermath of the incident has left approximately 40 houses in ruins, vehicles swept away, and tragically claimed the life of Sumitra Rabha, a resident of one of the affected houses.
The incident occurred around 3 p.m., catching the residents off guard and plunging them into a state of panic and chaos. Over 600 individuals directly experienced the wrath of the rushing water, with around 30 sustaining injuries. The injured were promptly evacuated and transported to nearby hospitals for urgent medical attention.
During an exclusive ground report conducted by India Today NE, affected residents shared their harrowing accounts. Deepti Nath, a local resident, recounted the initial moments of the disaster, saying, "We were completely unaware of the situation initially. Suddenly, the sky turned dark, and shortly after, water began flooding into our house. The water was so high that it engulfed everything, making it pitch black. We believed there might be a fire due to the blackness and darkness all around us. There were loud noises accompanying the chaos. We rushed to the road and were confronted with water everywhere. It was an incredibly disorienting situation where no one could see anyone else, and the condition was dire. We were extremely tense, going back and forth between our home and the road, unsure of what to do. Unfortunately, during this time, a neighbor whom I called sister-in-law, thinking she could swim to safety, got trapped when a large wall collapsed. Although she was eventually rescued, she tragically lost her life. We were unaware of the events that unfolded after that since we remained on the road. The water level rose to our waist, making it impossible for anyone to move freely. No help or rescue teams had arrived by then, and we felt abandoned. The incident occurred at 3 pm, right after school hours. It was the first time we had ever experienced such a calamity in our lives, leaving us overwhelmed with fear and uncertainty. Many houses were destroyed, and numerous lives were lost. One of our children also sustained injuries. As of my knowledge up until May 25, no government or ministry officials had arrived, and no relief efforts had been announced."
Dandadhar Nath, another resident, expressed his concerns regarding the actions of the authorities and engineers involved, stating, "Whatever incident happened at 3 pm on May 25, the authorities arrived, conducted tests inside the tanker, and placed a board outside. However, at around 11 pm on the same day, the pipeline burst, resulting in water gushing out. The authorities then came to perform welding at the location where the water had escaped. The Additional District Commissioner was present during this time, and we discussed with them the necessity for the engineers to provide us with written assurance that such incidents would not occur again before proceeding with the work. Unfortunately, they did not fulfill this requirement and proceeded with the work in their own manner. As residents, we have doubts that similar incidents may happen again in the future."
A young resident said, "My grandfather and grandmother were at home, and I was there too. I immediately told them that we needed to evacuate. At that time, the water reached our ankles, and after some time, it rose to waist level. We moved to a higher place and protected ourselves. Even our neighbors joined us there for safety."
A woman said "The water broke our house, doors, and the roof. We thought a storm had arrived, and it felt like the end of the world. Everything became foggy, and the fog obscured everything, making it dark. We couldn't see anything. I was about to eat food with my toddler when suddenly the water rushed in. We all stood at the door, but as the water started breaking through the roof, we became nervous and didn't know what to do."
Another resident, Sarojini Das said, "The incident that occurred was indeed unfortunate, and it seems that there were significant shortcomings on the part of the officials and engineers from Gammon JICA. They failed to provide any prior warning about the possibility of such an incident happening. Additionally, they conducted the pipe testing without alerting or informing the local residents, which resulted in the destructive consequences."
"It is deeply regrettable that they fled the scene soon after the incident, leaving behind a devastating situation where everything was destroyed, and the water directly entered our house. The fact that our son was floating in the water and that a neighbor lost their life only adds to the tragedy of the situation.", she added.
The incident has raised concerns about the preparedness and accountability of the officials and engineers involved in the Gammon JICA water supply project. Residents are demanding answers and immediate relief to aid their recovery from this catastrophic event. They are seeking assurance from the authorities that stringent measures will be taken to prevent the recurrence of such disasters.
Meanwhile, in response to the calamitous incident, the Governor of Assam has taken swift action to address the situation. A three-member committee has been constituted to investigate the incident and conduct a comprehensive safety audit of the JICA assisted Guwahati Water Supply Project. The committee, led by Pabitra Ram Khaund, IAS, Secretary to the Government of Assam, Department of Housing and Urban Affairs, includes Ramendra Sundar Choudhury, Retired Secretary to the Government of Assam, Public Health Engineering Department cum Additional Mission Director (DEM) of AMRUT, and Sanjai Kr. Mahanta, Retired Chief Engineer of the Irrigation Department cum Additional Mission Director (Admin) of AMRUT. This committee will diligently examine the bursting of the clear water pumping main at Joypur near the IOCL Gate, a crucial component of the ongoing JICA assisted Guwahati Water Supply Project.
The tragic incident has drawn attention to the complexities of the water pumping main line and the need for a comprehensive investigation into its construction, maintenance, and safety protocols. The pipeline, spanning a length of 2040 meters, was laid between 2015 and 2019 by M/s Gammon India Ltd, now known as Gammon Engineers and Contractors Pvt Ltd. Hydrotesting and flushing were conducted in 2019, and since January 2020, it has been operational in pumping water from the Kharghuli Water Treatment Plant to the Ramsa Hill reservoir.
Ashok Singhal, the Assam Minister for Guwahati Development Department (GDD), expressed deep regret over the incident while speaking to India Today NE. Singhal stressed the importance of conducting a comprehensive inquiry to determine the exact cause of the accident. He acknowledged that while the water supply system had been functioning smoothly without any issues for the past three years, this unforeseen incident had occurred, categorizing it as an accident. Singhal further assured the affected residents that the authorities are fully committed to investigating the root cause and implementing preventive measures to avoid any such mishaps in the future.
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