12 July 1961 – This fateful day will remain etched forever in Pune’s history. A day that changed the history and geography of this great city. Call it a bad coincidence—but two events that happened almost exactly 200 years apart have played a critical role in Pune’s history—to the extent that they have been added to the local Marathi lexicon. The first one was the 3rd Battle of Panipat in 1761 and the second one—the Panshet flood. Panipat zala and Panshet zala are commonly used terms today to refer to a big disaster.
Half a century ago, the new under-construction Panshet dam had started developing some problems, even before it was complete. Against some recommendations, the dam was being filled up during the 1961 monsoon season. Cracks started developing and yet there was lot of debate on whether the dam was in real imminent danger. Read this technical article for a good engineering summary of what went wrong at Panshet: http://nptel.iitm.ac.in/courses/IIT-MADRAS/Hydraulics/pdfs/Unit41/41_2.pdf
A valiant last-ditch effort by the army jawans managed to delay the inevitable by a few hours. These few hours helped a lot. If not for this great effort, where thousands of sand bags were deployed, the dam would have burst in the middle of the night, creating havoc for the sleeping residents of Pune. The few hours delay meant that the burst happened early morning and the wall of flood waters reached Pune later in the morning. The deluge of flood waters of Panshet also broke the smaller Khadakwasla dam, further downstream.
Residents started getting some warnings early in the morning and the authorities started moving out the residents living near the riverside. Many residents fled to higher grounds, some all the way to the Parvati Hill. Apparently, All India Radio did not broadcast any warnings, and was playing a regular scheduled music program when the floods struck. The low lying areas of the old city were almost completely submerged. Except for the Bund Garden Bridge, all the bridges were under water as well. Water rushed into the old ‘Peths’ and along Karve Road, Deccan Gymkhana areas. For many hours, the high water levels persisted. Roughly speaking Panshet water reservoir stores enough water for Pune’s entire city needs today (today’s needs are probably 5-10 times more than the 1960s requirements).
Imagine all that water being drained out in just a few hours! To give you an idea of the level of the water, just visualize the first floor of Abasaheb Garware College (MES) on Karve Road, nearly completely submerged! Some people and rescue workers were trying navigating Deccan Gymkhana, FC/JM Road areas in small boats.
The water levels finally started falling by late night. The floods completely cut off the electric and water supply. 12th July was a dark, rainy night in Pune—with rumours still doing the rounds. Some of them pointed to more floods on the way... (Even though the dams had been drained empty by then). When the flood-waters receded, they left behind a trail of destruction and a muddy mess. The cleanup and rebuilding took many months. The old riverside city landscape changed forever. New localities (such as Lokmanya Nagar, Gokhale Nagar, etc.) were set up to resettle some of the flood affected citizens. Most of the bridges were damaged and needed fixing and in some cases complete rebuilding. With Khadakwasla and Panshet dams completely drained, there was no water supply for the city. The Peshwa era Katraj water aqueduct was used to meet some water requirements. Wells were another source. Wadas that had wells had to prominently list ‘Well’ on their main door—so that the water source could be made available.
Gaurav Chattur, a reader on this blog mentioned that the day was saved by blowing up Khadakwasla dam by rockets fired from a helicopter as the National Defence Academy (NDA) and Khadakwasla village were under the threat of flooding. However, another reader Vasuki Goroor Srinivasan, who witnessed the floods first hand, dismissed the theory. He said, “First of all, and I am a close witness and later volunteer, no helicopters ever made an appearance. IAF did not have helicopters with rockets attached to them in 1961. An uncle of mine was the sqadron leader at Lohegaon airbase and they were not mobilised.”
According to Srinivasan, what happened at Khadakwasla was that sheer volume and speed of water created a breach at 2.30am. “On the downstream side, we have the Central Water and Power Research Station (CWPRS). They were on constant watch for the previous day and once Panshet started oozing copious amounts and the flood reached Khadakwasla dam, the authorities took their laboratory camera equipment, generator powered flood lights and filmed the events of the night. There is a clear cascade over the dam wall and at 2.30am, a spray of water shot up from a lower level of the cascade indicating the breach. I have seen this film many times as we were connected with CWPRS. This film was part of the enquiry into Panshet and Khadakwasla dam bursts.”
Srinivasan at that time was living in a building, whose first floor was occupied by Mr Venkataraman, the deputy director of CWPRS, who incidentally was on the site directing the lab camera that recorded the events. “My uncle Sq Ldr NK Ramprasad was second in command at the air force base at Lohegaon. Helicopters those days were not equipped to fire rockets, as the recoil system was not available and night time helicopter ops were not possible and the most modern equipment was the Hawker Hunter Fighter. My uncle came visiting us late that night to see whether we are alright. He brought us bread and biscuits from their canteen stores.”
“Incidentally, I have one more association with Khadakwasla—my great grandfather was junior to Sir M Vishweshwarayya who designed the flood gates of that dam. Incidentally, the gates did not jam. Authorities wrongly or rightly did not simply operate the gates that night. Many accused them of compounding the disaster by not letting out Khadakwasla water before Panshet water came to the dam. However, that would mean waters hitting Pune by 10pm of 11 July 1961 and that would have meant floods in darkness in areas where people were asleep! So, one is never sure! Srinivasan said in a mail sent to and published by Amit Paranjape on the blog.
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Street vendors’ health insurance scheme introduced in Haryana with reimbursement of medical bills up to Rs30,000
Chandigarh: The Haryana government has extended the benefit of national health insurance scheme to street vendors, reports PTI.
Under the scheme, each family will get reimbursement of medical bills up to Rs30,000.
"Now street vendors would also be covered under the scheme. The concerned municipal committee or council would identify such families and prepare a list and their smart cards would be prepared by the Health Department," a government spokesperson said. BPL families were being covered under the scheme. The government has already decided to extend the benefit of the scheme to MNREGA workers, he said.