Safety: Worker safety in hydropower project areas is on the limelight once again following the death of five workers at the Mangdechhu Hydropower Project Authority (MHPA) dam site on August 13.

The workers were buried under debris from a slide on the right dam abutment.

Managing director of MHPA, A K Mishra, said 21 workers have died at the project so far, including the recent five. Punatshangchhu I and II reported 41 deaths.

While MHPA maintains that necessary safety measures were put in place, workers felt otherwise. Many felt that not enough was done to stabilise the landslide.

“Everyone knew that slide could occur anytime,” said an expatriate worker.

Workers also felt that safety is taking backseat at the project while rushing to meet the completion deadline of March 2018.

The slide from the right dam abutment located at the foot of Tangsibji area first began sliding on July 9. Minor slides from the left dam abutment were also reported that day, forcing the project authority to suspend the works in the dam pit from July 9.

“The right abutment was treated by biological measures with use of Jutemates and shotcreting wherever required,” A K Mishra said, adding that load the slopes with dead weights as such measures could have only triggered more slides.

Said A K Mishra: “Designers never recommended serious treatment works above the dam top level as is traditional.” Concrete works, therefore, weren’t carried out on the right abutment.

However, the biological measures didn’t succeed in stabilising the landslide. Workers were deployed to work in dam pit under danger looming overhead.

“The workers normally used to scamper into a cave-like cavity in the dam pit whenever debris came rolling down in small quantities,” a worker said. But on August 13, a massive slide buried five workers and injured eight in the dam pit.

It took five days for the bodies to be recovered.

Economic affairs minister, Norbu Wangchuk, visited the site immediately after the slide. He said that more needs to be done even though safety measures as per the guidelines of Central Water Commission (CWC) are in place.

Lyonpo said that leaving the distressed area unattended will be risky and urged the project to treat both the right and left dam abutments. “CWC must approve [treatment] because workers are at risk.”

A K Mishra said the project is developing the treatment plans for both the abutments by calling experts from Meccaferri, Netlon, Geobrugg and National Hydroelectric Power Corporation.

“The project is sensitive to such issues and shall be ensuring a durable treatment on both the abutments so that nothing happens hereafter,” A K Mishra said.

Anguished workers and relatives of the deceased are calling for more safety at the project sites. The workers said the project mustn’t be complacent.

“Money can’t bring the dead back; It is important that projects put safety at the front and centre of their activities” said a relative of the deceased.

Tempa Wangdi