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Despite "serious issues" with Narmada dam safety, Gujarat govt is "indifferent", reveals activist's RTI plea

By Our Representative
Replies to a right to information (RTI) application filed by senior environmentalist Himanshu Thakkar have revealed that the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO), Goa, found serious issues with the Sardar Sarovar Dam’s safety way back in May 2011, yet till now, “there is still no news that the damage has been repaired, even as the monsoon of 2014 is about six weeks away”. Suggesting this shows how serious the Gujarat government towards the dam’s safety, Thakkar said, “It took Gujarat government 30 months just to organize a dam safety meeting”.
This has happened at a time when, according to Thakkar of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, official reports show that the structures like stilling basin that are a part of the dam have suffered such serious damage. The Sardar Sarovar Construction Advisory Committee (SSCAC) and its permanent standing committee (PSC), responsible for okaying every construction activity of the project, even repeatedly asked for attention towards all this. But nothing happened.
In fact, the SSCAC “first asked for urgent attention, then immediate attention, then attention before monsoon to repair the damage, but still there has been no response from the Gujarat government and the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd (SSNNL)”, Thakkar said. All this while, he regretted, “India’s premier technical body on water resources, Central Water Commission (CWC), was not taking interest in this issue, ostensibly since it was not represented on the Dam Safety Panel”.
Revealing the chronology of the concern about the damage, as revealed in the minutes of several meetings of SSCAC and PSC, Thakkar said, in May 2011, the PSC for the first time was informed that a team of nine officials from NIO, Goa, had carried out an inspection under water of stilling basin of the dam during from May 3 to May 13, 2011.
The meeting was told that the NIO found there was no damage “except some erosion of size 3-5 cm at some places, which is not a serious problem.” Yet, at two subsequent meetings, on June 8, 2011 meeting, and on February 10, 2012, PSC found it was necessary to take “urgent steps for remedial actions on the recommendations of the NIO report”, asking for a “meeting of the Dam Safety Panel at an early date in view of the NIO report.”
The last meeting noted that the NIO report had found not a negligible damage, but a serious one. Thakkar quotes its minutes, which say, “Among other damages, two big cavities noticed along with many minor ones” in Bay 5 and “RT[1] wall cavity at the bottom, where a small area which found disturbed, needs attention.” It also reported damages “from Bay 1, 2, 3 & 4 and divide wall and basin floor had cavities in all the bays, more in Bay 4 & 5.”
Then, the SSCAC’s March 16, 2012 meeting noted that the NIO, Goa, had found “minor cavities, loose pieces of concrete and broken iron rod pieces on the floor.” On August 23, 2012, at the PSC meeting finally decided to hold a Dam Safety Patel meeting to “immediately” carry out “underwater inspection after the monsoon whenever high magnitude flood occurs.” Yet, the Gujarat government was “quite casual”. The meeting could not be held, allegedly because its chairman, YK Murthy, aged 92, was “not keeping good health”!
Yet, “considering the seriousness of the situation at the dam”, Thakkar said, “the SSCAC wrote letters to the SSNNL on October 25, 2012 and December 7, 2012 asking for the status of the action by the Gujarat government on the recommendation the PSC that the Dam Safety Panel meeting should be called immediately.” But “the Gujarat government did not bother to respond to the letters.”
On February 20, 2013 the PSC meeting noted “the sad demise of Dr Murthy.” Yet, no meeting of the Dam Safety Panel happen till November 25-26, 2013, which was reconstituted on July 6, 2013, under the chairmanship of R Jayaseelan, a former CWC chairman. And, its first agenda was “repairing of concrete panels of different bays of stilling basin of the dam.”
Meanwhile, a letter from the SSNNL to the Gujarat Engineering Research Institute explained possible reason for damage to stilling basin: “Due to uncontrolled flow passing over the spillway, hydraulic conditions which have not been considered in the design of spillway basin have developed. This has caused damage/ erosion in the stilling basin area… in the floor of stilling basin, junction of stilling basin floor and divide wall/ right training wall.”
On December 18, 2013, the PSC meeting asked the Gujarat government to “give top priority for repair of stilling basin before coming monsoon and keep ready the embedded parts required for at least one working season.” But representatives of the Gujarat government informed the meeting “that the procedure for carrying out above works will be started after receiving the final report of the Dam Safety Panel.”
The last meeting of the SSCAC took place on March 28, 2014 which merely threw light on lack of interest by CWC in this whole affair. The conclusion on can draw, said Thakkar, “It took Gujarat government 30 months just to organize a dam safety meeting – that too after pushing and prodding from several meetings of PSC of the SSCAC and meetings and letters from statutory SSCAC itself. This for the costliest dam of India a dam, about which Gujarat government and Gujarat politicians never tire of telling the world that it is Gujarat’s lifeline.”

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