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MP: Karam Dam Leakage on First Rain Kept Govt on Tenterhooks for 4 Days, Opposition Alleges Corruption

Kashif Kakvi |
Congress leader alleges dam built by Sarthi Construction is owned by close friend of a senior BJP leader and probe is just an eyewash.
Karam Dam

Karam Dam.Image Courtesy: NDTV

Bhopal: A day after water from the newly constructed Karam Dam reservoir, built over the Karam river in the Dhar district of Madhya Pradesh, was drained out, averting the danger of submerging 18 villages, Opposition parties attacked the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alleging corruption in the project.

The breach in the left flank of the Karam Medium Irrigation Project was reported on Thursday afternoon during the region's first rain. The state government, subsequently, sounded an alert and hurriedly evacuated over 10,000 people from 18 villages in the Dhar and Khargone districts sensing the looming threat.

At a cost of Rs 304 crore, the Karam dam was built to provide water for irrigation and drinking to 52 nearby villages, mostly inhabited by tribals. The tender was awarded to a Delhi-based company four years ago, which was supposed to complete it within 36 months but the completion got delayed owing to the COVID19-induced lockdown.

The unexpected seepage kept the authorities, a column of the Army and teams of national disaster response force (NDRF) on tenterhooks for almost four days after the water was drained from a temporary canal carved out to divert the water into the Narmada river.

"You can return home in coordination with the administration and celebrate Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav in your villages," said Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan last Sunday night in a video statement referring to the villagers who had been shifted to relief camps.

On Tuesday, state Congress president Kamal Nath, accompanied by other leaders, visited the site, met the villagers and took an aerial view of the dam. Speaking to reporters after the visit, he said, "the dam was built with soil which was washed away in the first monsoon. The government and officials constantly ignored complaints made by the locals."

Nath questioned: "If the dam was built with proposed materials, then why was it leaking? Why do we need to empty the dam or evacuate 18 villages?"

"Corruption is eating up the state and it's the perfect example of it. Has CM Chouhan held the construction company and officials accountable even after five days of the incident?" he asked.

According to the tender floated by the Water Resource Development in 2016-17, the proposed dam was to be built with a catchment area of 342.50 Sq. Km on Earthen Dam model with a gated Left Flank spillway. This is typically created by the placement and compaction of a complex semi-plastic mound of various compositions of soil or rock. It has a semi-pervious waterproof natural covering for its surface and a dense, impervious core but the seepage in the dam suggests otherwise, said people in the know.

The state government, on March 10 last year, told the Assembly that the Karam dam was one of the projects being investigated by the Economic Offences Wing  (EOW) after charges of corruption surfaced in the e-tender scam. In a reply to a question by Congress MLA Jitu Patwari on the Karam Irrigation project, the government replied that "EOW has registered cases in Bhopal in connection with the tempering in e-tenders of department's project and Mohanpura and Karam irrigation projects."

After averting the flood, state water resources minister Tulsiram Silawat on Tuesday set up a four-member committee to probe the construction.

Referring to the probe, former minister and Congress leader Jaivardhan Singh tweeted: "The Dam was built by Sarthi construction owned by one Ashok Bharadwaj who is a close friend of a senior BJP leader. Now, one can expect the outcome of the probe. It is just an eyewash."

As per reports in PTI, Jay Singh Thakur (55), a farmer of Bhandakho village in Dhar district said: “The administration saved our villages but at a cost. My 12 acres of ready-to-harvest soybean crop was washed away. Crops of many farmers met the same fate."

He further said that "construction materials like cement, sand, bricks of Rs 25,000 purchased after getting the first instalment of PM Awas Yojana to build a home for the family were also washed away."

Jai Singh told Kamal Nath that they were living in a temporary plastic tent with a family of five and domestic animals but no one came to their help. "Many villagers who have given their land for the dam are still waiting for compensation. Many received a petty amount of Rs 2 lakh per acre which is way lower than the government rate. But there is no one to listen," he added.

Soon after the seepage was spotted in the dam, a video by a resident of Kothira village, Lokesh Solanki, went viral in which he is seen blaming the district administration and state government for ignoring his complaints of graft. "I have been flagging to the authorities for the past three months that the material in the dam will get washed away and will claim our livelihood, but in vain," he says in the video, adding that his complaint to the CM Helpline is pending at level 4.

Speaking with NewsClick, Bhupendra Rawat, Sub-Divisional Magistrate from Dhar district, said: "The villagers have been asked to return to their villages as the dam has been emptied. A survey team has been constituted to access the losses of each villager and the compensation will be paid afterward."

Meanwhile, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Madhya Pradesh also alleged graft, saying that the license of a Delhi-based company was suspended and cancelled for indulging in corruption and irregularities in 2016-17 by the BJP government. The party alleged that this company was given the contract worth Rs 305 crore to build the Karam dam, which developed a leak during its first filling of water.

"Without checking the quality of the work, the company has been paid. This scam is not restricted at the bureaucratic level but has taken place under political patronage. This needs a thorough probe," alleged Jaswinder Singh, CPI(M) state secretary.

Singh alleged that in the e-tendering scam of MP before the outbreak of coronavirus, the Karam dam had figured. “Then, the Enforcement Directorate said that a company had dispensed Rs 93 crore as a bribe in that scam. The names of a minister and officers had cropped up,” he claimed.

He alleged that the EOW of MP Police had registered a case in connection with the Karam dam but it was put in cold storage. 

"Such a big scam of criminal and corrupt nature has put the lives of thousands of people (living downstream of the dam) at stake. Silawat should resign on moral grounds. He can't shrug off his responsibility," the CPI(M) leader told NewsClick.

Under attack from the media and Opposition, Silwat, however, said that strict action would be taken against whosoever was found guilty and appealed for letting the committee conduct the probe.

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