As Beas Dam completes 50 years : The Tribune India

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As Beas Dam completes 50 years

As Beas Dam completes 50 years

File photo



Narinder Sharma

As per the Indus Water Treaty signed in 1960, the waters of the three eastern rivers — Sutlej, Beas and Ravi — were allotted for use to India. Multipurpose river valley projects were planned for harnessing their waters. The massive Bhakra Dam (Sutlej) was taken up first, followed by Beas Dam and Ranjit Sagar Dam (Ravi).

The Bhakra-Nangal complex was accomplished by 1963. The workers and engineers gained experience and confidence in dam building and this trained force went on to undertake the Beas, Ranjit Sagar and many other dam projects in the region.

Beas Dam at Pong (Kangra district) is an earthen dam. Work on this flood control and storage dam was taken up in 1961 and completed in 1974. Its waters are the lifeline of parched lands in Rajasthan and it is also home to migratory birds and various fish species. The Pong power plant has a capacity of 396 MW and 1,600 million units annually. Beas Dam is celebrating its golden jubilee on June 30.

The highest dam in Asia of its time was completed by the sweat and toil of a dedicated band of 15,000 workers and 1,000 engineers and technicians. Over 130 workers and other associates died during the construction. We salute them!

I started my career here as a Sub-Divisional Officer in 1969 and after almost 33 years, joined the project as Chief Engineer. Those days are still fresh in memory.

A concrete spillway had been provided on the left side of the dam. During the excavation, a swarm of fearful reptiles was encountered. They would come out in large numbers and attack the dozer and its operator. The work had to be stopped as crushing of reptiles was considered inhuman. We sought the advice of the area’s famous ‘Ghati Wale Babaji’. He advised to build a ‘Shivji’ temple. A makeshift temple was built. After a few days, work was resumed after a slight adjustment in alignment of the structure. A full-fledged temple was constructed later at a hillock as an observatory for spillway operations. The temple remains a vibrant site.

The wars of 1965 and 1971 with Pakistan affected the construction schedule of the dam as allocation of funds was slashed. In 1971, construction was in full swing but Army officers insisted on taking away some equipment to strengthen their war strategy. They loaded dozers and allied machines on their trailers and left for the borders, saying, ‘First war, later wall’.

The financial crunch and import restrictions came as a blessing in disguise. Many equipment and machine innovations were achieved by technicians and engineers.

During 1974-75, the dam work was nearing completion and the retrenchment of surplus labourers was on cards. Work on the Thein (Ranjit Sagar) Dam couldn’t start due to lack of funds. This generated a fear of unemployment. There were protests and some labourers even devised ways to slow down work. It was then that many skilled workers and trained operators were sent by the government to Gulf countries and neighbouring regions. Similarly, some engineers were deputed as experts to foreign locations.

Also unforgettable is a down-to-earth senior officer, humble and disciplined to the core. He would always stand in a queue in any public place. He would never jump the queue, even if requested. One day, he went to a Junior Engineer’s house disguised as a helper and told his family that he was sent by ‘Sir’. He obeyed all orders of ‘Bibiji’ throughout the day, be it sweeping, watering the plants or bringing their children from school. He had brought his own tiffin and declined all hospitality of the family.

At 4 pm, he told ‘Bibiji’ that his duty was over. While leaving, he took all the pilfered items — hose pipe, buckets, table and chairs — and got these deposited in the government store as ‘lost and found’. Word spread fast and pilferage stopped almost at once.

Then there was a Chief Engineer who was surprised to find that he was not the only ‘Chief’. The Chief Fire Officer, the Chief Purchase Officer — they were addressed as ‘Chief’ too.

The swadeshi Beas Dam — planned, designed and constructed by Indian workers and engineers — has completed 50 years of life. It’s a modern temple of a resurgent India in service of mankind.


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