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Indian dam survives earthquake unscathed

The Sardar Sarovar dam and hydro scheme, on the Narmada river at Bharach in Gujarat, remains undamaged by the catastrophic earthquake that may have claimed the lives of as many as 100,000 people in the Indian state.

A spokesman from the plant’s state-owned operating company, Sardar Sarovar Nirman Nigam, told IWP&DC that all the components of the project were safe, even though the epicentre of the earthquake near the town of Bhuj was only 300km away. The earthquake measured between 7 and 8 on the Richter scale on 26 January.

For over ten years, environmentalists have campaigned against taking the main dam at Sardar Sarovar to its design height of 163m, from a current 88m. The groups had feared reservoir-induced seismicity. The Supreme Court had previously ordered that the extension be stopped but ruled that work could resume in October 2000 to its design height. The dam’s survival in last month’s earthquake will strengthen support for the extension.

While experts have countered the seismic theory about the Sardar Sarovar, the recent earthquake has ‘tested’ the structure. Gujarat lies in an actively seismic zone but, as it is not a ‘hydro state’, there have been no other major dams constructed there on which the possible effect of an earthquake could be observed.

The 300MW Dantiwada dam on the river Banas and an irrigation scheme on the river Tapi are thought to have escaped damage.