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Tunnel tragedy glare on Tehri dam
A milk vendor makes his way through a flooded road in Ambala on Tuesday. (PTI)

Lucknow, Aug. 3: Buffeting rain and huge landslides sucked the Tehri dam into further controversy today as 17 labourers were buried alive in a tunnel collapse last night.

Several workers, mostly from Bihar and Jharkhand, were also feared trapped under the debris of the tunnel of the dam which environmental groups have been saying is dangerous because it is being built in an earthquake-prone part of the Himalayas.

At least 50-60 workers of a private company — Jay Prakash Industries — were working in the 100-metre-deep tunnel, which was being bored through a mountain, when it caved in, district magistrate Punit Kansal said.

“We are not sure how many people are still trapped inside. We are still involved in rescue operations,” Uttaranchal principal home secretary S.K. Das said. Thirteen bodies have been found and three severely injured workers shifted to Dehra Dun.

Although there have been heavy rains in the area, which could have set off the landslides and is hampering rescue, the Centre said it would investigate the cause of the accident. The power ministry has ordered a high-level probe.

Agencies attributed the tunnel collapse to the rising floodwaters of the Bhagirathi. Only last week, several parts of old Tehri town were submerged after a sudden rise in the Bhagirathi waters.

Officials said the 261-metre dam, the highest in Asia, was safe. “There is no damage to the dam,” said R.D. Prabhakar, executive director of Tehri Hydro Development Corporation, which is implementing the Rs 6,000-crore project.

The tunnel deaths are bound to trigger a wave of protests from environment activists — including author Arundhati Roy — who have long been up in arms against the project.

Tens of thousands of people have been displaced from their homes with the gradual submergence of the main town of Tehri and some 125 villages. The Centre has pressed on with the construction of the dam regardless of protests.

The dam is part of a massive hydroelectric project expected to produce 24,000 MW of electricity. Critics say several towns would be at risk if the dam ever broke.

“We have ordered a magisterial inquiry into the Tehri dam landslides incident. A report would be submitted in a week,” Uttaranchal chief minister N.D. Tiwari said.

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