‘Horror’ story saved in clips
By - Prasad Joshi
Vishwas Phatak, a retired registrar of Abasaheb Garware College, has preserved newspaper cuttings of several photos published at the time of the Panshet floods, which show eloquently the disaster scenario.
Horrific memories of the devastating Panshet flood of July 12, 1961, are still fresh in the mind of 69-year-old Vishwas Phatak, a retired registrar from Abasaheb Garware College.
Phatak, who was working with Swastik Rubber Company at Khadki during the 60s, said that excess discharge of water had started entering the city within a couple of hours of the 100-feet wide breach occurring in Panshet earthen dam at around 7am.
I still remember the furious flow of Mutha river that submerged nearly half of Pune on that day. The gushing flood water rendered homeless hundreds of families in just a few hours, besides damaging popular landmarks of that time like the then newly reconstructed Lakdi Pul (Sambhaji Bridge) and Omkareshwar Temple to name a few,” he told Sakal Times.
The news of Panshet dam developing a breach due to structural failure reached us in the company in morning and we were immediately asked to leave for our homes to look after our near and dear ones. I reached Shivaji Nagar from Khadki in a PMT bus and thereafter headed towards JM Road making my way through knee-deep water,” he reminisced.
Phatak, who has preserved newspaper cuttings of several photos published that time, said the scene he witnessed on reaching near Modern School on JM Road was mind-boggling.
I couldn't believe my eyes...only the top of the statue of Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi on JM Road was visible while rest was completely submerged in flood water,” he recalls.
Field day for rumours
Phatak said that there was a spate of rumours about causes behind the flood and it was difficult to contain them, as there were no communication devices available in those days.
People were seen running for their lives here and there. Many had climbed atop Parvati temple and Chaturshringi temple and remained there till the flood water receded by night,” he said.
Besides hundreds of houses located on river bank being wiped away in flood water, few prominent structures in Pune were also damaged.
Omkareshwar Temple sustained considerable damage due to flood water. The 'nandi' located outside the temple was completely uprooted. Also, one 'buruj' of Shaniwarwada bore some damage as it was struck with water,” Phatak said.
Pathak said that there was mud all around in the flood-affected area once the water subsided by around 11 pm.Army was deployed in the city for rescue and relief work in flood-affected areas. They had great trouble while working since there was muck all over,” he recalled.
Artistes raise relief funds
The clippings of newspapers Phatak has preserved show eminent author-journalist late Prof PK Atre visiting Panshet dam while artistes like Lata Mangeshkar, Usha Mangeshkar, Lalita Pawar and Shubha Khote rallying in Mumbai to raise funds for the flood-affected. Interestingly, Phatak also has a photo clipping of a newspaper that shows a small breach that occurred in Khadakwasla dam due to overflowing, which was termed as a 'cascade break'.
July 12, 1961, revisited
By - Aseem Tribhuvan
Distress and gloom is conspicuous on the faces of the senior residents of the lane 77 of Gokhale Nagar as they remember the day ‘July 12, 1961’, when Panshet dam wall developed a breach causing massive floods and significant loss of property in Pune.
Sushilabai Deshmukh, 79, still feels jittery when recollecting the memories of the day and the life after the disaster.
“It was the fourth month of my pregnancy and we were staying near Dakshinmukhi Maruti temple. My husband had gone to work in the morning and my elder son had gone to school. I was with my three other children engaged in some household chores when the flood water suddenly started gushing into my house,” recounts Sushilabai.
“Police just dragged us out of our home and we didn’t even get a chance to take our belongings. With my children behind me as I rushed to my relatives' place near Chimnya Ganpati, I could see the city immersing into reddish flood water. That night when I had almost lost hope, I finally met my husband and son,” she said.
Vijaya Choudhary, who lived in a joint family near Navgraha temple in Kasba Peth, shares a similar experience. “I left my home with my three children and for next two years we were shifting from one place to another. My children had to miss school for several months,” she said.
The flood played havoc with thousands of families and many of them lost their property forever. Transport, communication and sewage system came to standstill and it took months for the city to come back to normal. The post-disaster life was no less than an ordeal for the families who lost their shelter and assets in the flood.
Laxman Gaikwad, who was a labourer in Municipal Corporation, and lost his home at Pulachi Wadi said, “After the disaster, temporary shelters were set up at Prabhat Studio and we stayed there for few weeks. Later, for over two years we lived in a shanty near Parvati area. During the period I was literally running after different officials at the collector office to get a house. Finally, my family got a house in Gokhale Nagar colony which was set up by the government for rehabilitation of the flood victims.”
Sindhubai, Laxman’s wife still finds it difficult to terms with the experience. “At times we used to get government aid. Trucks loaded with eatables and groceries used to come near our colony. It’s not a very nice feeling to remember standing in the crowd to catch hold of my share of the goodies desperately,” said Sindhu.
The unsung heroes
The civic administration took its own time to help the people, but the residents here believe that the citizens who helped each other willingly during the flood time were the real unsung heroes who managed to restore the city to its routine
Rajnikant Ohol was 15 at the time of the flood. He was staying with his family on the premises of Kamla Nehru hospital in Mangalwar Peth. He remembers vividly how he helped hospital staff to shift patients to a safer place when the hospital started flooding. “We shifted over 100 patients from the hospital to a bungalow near Pull Gate and Wadia Hospital. I think we were able to avert a major tragedy because of our timely action,” said Raju.
Cut to the present, water here came up to the neck on June 14
Shruti Khairnar does a recce of Vakil Nagar Co-op Housing Society, Erandwane, three weeks after they suffered a deluge on June 14, 2010...
The water level rose so quickly that we had no time to react. The main door wouldn't budge due to the water pressure. We managed to get out of our house by wedging a piece of wood in the doorway. Outside, the water was up to my neck,” recounted homemaker Pratibha Madke.
"It was a good thing it did not happen at night, else there would have been deaths. People waited on the terrace till the water receded around 10 pm. We had never imagined something like this would happen,” said musician Sanjeev Pankar.
Madke and Pankar are ground floor residents of Vakil Nagar Co-op Housing Society at Erandwane that bore the brunt of a flash flood from a overflowing nullah on June 14, 2010, the day the city saw about 99 mm of rainfall. The retaining wall at the back of the housing society collapsed due to the increased water in the adjoining nullah, with the proper flow of water obstructed due to encroachments.
"With the river just a kilometer away, the nullah needs to be wider here. But with builders on the opposite side encroaching on the nullah by constructing walls, the turning of the water was affected and it entered our society,” said Pankar, whose musical instruments were all under water that day. The wall broke sometime between 5:30 to 6 pm and the water level rose to almost five feet within ten minutes. “One woman was stuck in her flat with her small child as their door could not be opened. In another flat an elderly man and his granddaughter were stuck. They were rescued by municipal and political party workers,” said assistant to the society's chairman, S B Gadage.
Commercial artist Sachin Shende grabbed his son's 10th std books and rushed out of his flat to escape the rising water. “We had no electricity for four days till the meters were shifted to a higher level. The underground water tanks had to be cleaned. Our homes were a mess with mud all over and it took us 8-10 days to clean them. There was an awful odour too as the water was mixed with drainage,” he recounted.
Ground floor residents of Vakil Nagar had their electronic items, books, important papers, furniture, mattresses, food grains, vehicles all destroyed. “Taking necessary strict action against the encroachers and improving the system is more important to us than the cost of the damage,” said Shende. Proposal for building a 15-mt high and 200-mt long retaining wall costing Rs 50 lakh has been made, but till then Vakil Nagar residents are afraid this disaster might happen again. The mental trauma of endangered lives and destroyed belongings is still very fresh in their minds.
Failure in the Panshet dam burst has been attributed to inadequate provision of the water outlet facility for emergencies causing the collapse of the structure above the outlets. With the nullah near the society, which is the outlet for surface runoff during rains, choking on garbage and encroachments caused a mini Panshet-like situation at Vakil Nagar.
But what Corporator Medha Kulkarni questioned is worth thinking about: “Why should these people suffer for something they are not even responsible for?”