Skip to main content

Behind 'avoidable' flood disaster in Narmada from Aug 29 to Sept 1 in South Gujarat

Counterview Desk
Himanshu Thakkar, who is with the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP), has alleged that the Sardar Sarovar Dam authorities failed to foresee that massive rainfall in the upstream areas in Madhya Pradesh, which led to an “avoidable flood disaster” in Bharuch in South Gujarat between August 29 and September 1.
In a detailed analysis based on official data, Thakkar, who is a well-known environmentalist, says that the authorities had “sufficient information” to take advance action and start releasing water from the dam starting on August 26 evening, if not earlier. If they had gradually started water releases and continued release moderate quantity for 10 days starting on August 26, floods could have been avoided.
In fact, gradual release of water along the 160 km stretch of the river downstream of the dam would have benefited the river, groundwater and the eco-system in large number of ways, he underlines.

Excerpts:

The Sardar Sarovar Dam (SSD) operators are operating the dam callously, almost cruelly, without consideration of the impact of the operation in the downstream area. Till Saturday, August 29, 2020 early, they were not releasing any water from the spillway gates of the dam, in spite of sufficient actionably information at least since August 26 that rainfall is hugely increasing in upstream Narmada basin.
By August 29 night they were releasing up to 10 lakh cusecs (cubic feet per second) or 28,320 cumecs (cubic meters per second) of water. Three days later, in the evening of Tuesday, September 1, they closed the spillway gates, thus stopping all releases from spillway.
During these 3-4 days, massive quantities were released, up to 30 000 cumecs through spillways, and nothing before or after that! It created massive flood disaster all along the downstream from Gaudeshwar to Bharuch, but the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) authorities, Gujarat government, seem least bothered.
It’s in fact double disaster: It created avoidable flood disaster. The second disaster was basically in terms of the loss as it also meant that the water that could have been released into the river over longer period, could not be used for that purpose.
Could they have avoided this kind of massive, disastrous flood flow for the downstream area for 3-4 days and instead staggered the releases over longer period, which, instead of creating a disaster, could have helped the downstream river and area over a longer period?
Was there actionable information available with SSP authorities to take such advance releases of lower quantum? Did they use that information? Who are responsible? What action can and should be taken?

Downstream disaster

The releases were so heavy on August 29 that the “Times of India” reported:
“About 21 villages located close to the embankment of Narmada river in Jhagadia, Bharuch and Ankleshwar talukas in Bharuch district have been put on alert… A team of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) too has been put on stand-by in the district for rescue and relief work following the flood alert issued by the Bharuch district administration on Saturday… District collector of Bharuch, Dr MD Modiya said, ‘People in low-lying areas in Jhagadia, Bharuch and Ankleshwar have been advised not to venture near the river and stay alert. The administration is fully prepared to meet any eventuality’.”
ANI reported on August 31, 2020:
“10 lakh cusecs of water has been released from the Sardar Sarovar Dam today. It has impacted at least 30 villages near the dam. We have shifted 4,977 people who were affected by the flood like situation. MD Modiya, the district magistrate, Bharuch said currently the water level of the Golden Bridge is at 32.68 ft.”
According to another set of Gujarati reports (click here, here and here), following opening of 23 of the 30 spillway gates of SSD, for the seventh time in last 50 years water level crossed 34 feet and reached 35.17 feet (10.72 m).
Livelihoods of tens of thousands is affected, at least 6,595 people had to be shifted for safety. Boats were plying in Old Bharuch city streets. Water has entered at least 4,000 shops, leading to massive damages. Crops over at least 20 000 ha have been destroyed. Narmadeshwar temple at Garudeshwar got washed away in the floods. 
A video, released by the “Times of India”, shows how Bharuch areas are flooded. CWC also tweeted how SSP releases lead to floods in downstream areas.
How did SSP authorities operate the dam? From the information available from CWC (Central Water Commission) Flood Forecasting (FF), NCA (Narmada Control Authority) daily bulletins and other available information, we can understand how SSD was operated during this episode.
There is contradictory information in some instances between these sources, in which case we have gone by what CWC FF hydrographs, as that is more detailed information compared to NCA bulletins, which give only daily average figures. 
As per the hydrograph of SSD from CWC, no water was released from the spillways of the SSD till around 0000 hrs of August 29.
Was actionable information available with SSP authorities for advance releases of lower quantum? Did they use that information?
The NCA bulletin of August 28 also reported zero releases from SSD spillways. NCA bulletin of August 29 reported (applicable for 0800 hours that day) spillway release of 3,231.4 cumecs and when we add the RBPH (River Bed Power House) releases of 1,114.6 cumecs, we have total release to river of 4346 cumecs. This is possibly the average figure for the 24 hrs ending at 0800 hrs on August 29.
Similarly releases to river for August 30, August 31, September 1 and September 2 are reported as: 17,343 cumecs, 25,726 cumecs, 29,887 cumecs and 23,410 cumecs respectively.
NCA bulletins also tell us that the Sardar Sarovar power houses were producing no power on August 2, paltry 0.509 million units (MU) on August 26, 10 MU on August 27 and produced peak of 26.91 MU on September 2, when power houses released maximum 1,552 cumecs.
This again shows under-utilization of the power stations. If they had operated them optimally before August 29, it would have helped reduce water level.
Average water release from SSD (including spillways, power houses and Head Regulator) on August 25, 26, 27 and 28 were just 4.4 cumecs, 117 cumecs, 688 cumecs and 1,114 cumecs, which shows that the Sardar Sarovar was just hoarding water during these and earlier days. If the dam had released regular greater quantity of water, that would have not only helped the people, river and ecosystem, but also would have helped avoid the disaster.
Hydrographs of Garudeshwar show that water level started climbing from around 22 m around 1600 hrs on August 29, sent above the warning level of 30.48 m around 1900 hrs on August 30, reached a peak of 33.1 m at 1500 hrs on September 1, started falling and then came down below the warning level by around 0000 hrs on September 2.
Two hydrographs of Bharuch show that water level was 4.85 m till 2000 hours on August 29, when it started climbing and reached 10.6 m by 0300 hours on September 1. And that since September 1 evening, water level has started dropping and has dropped from peak of 10.72 m on September 1 evening to 8.7 m on September 2 evening.

Advance action could have been taken

The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) provides daily district wise rainfall figures for the 24 hrs ending at 0830 hours every day. If we see these figures for August 27 (rainfall happening on August 26), the rainfall in some of the Narmada Valley districts were: Dindori: 416% above normal; Jabalpur: 315% above normal; Mandla: 254% above normal; Katni: 147% above normal and Seoni: 135% above normal.
So this rainfall on August 26, the information about which should clearly be monitored by Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) authorities, since that rainfall would ultimately result in inflows in the Sardar Sarover, was clear, actionable information.
Similarly, rainfall in some of the Narmada valley districts in Madhya Pradesh reported by IMD on August 28 morning (rainfall on August 27) was even bigger warning: Narshimapura: 152.6 mm; Raisen: 110.5 mm; Hoshangabad: 81.8 mm; Balaghat: 83 mm; Chhindwara: 68.5 mm; Dindori: 49.8 mm; Jabalpur: 58.9 mm; Mandla 74.2 mm; Seoni: 67.4 mm. The rainfall of August 27 was another major warning.
Rainfall reported by IMD on August 29 morning (rainfall on August 28) in some of the Narmada Valley districts went up further: Betul: 142.4 mm; Harda: 111.1 mm; Hoshangabad: 191.1 mm; Raisen: 114.5 mm; Sehore: 87 mm; Balaghat: 90.7 mm; Chhindwara: 250.6 mm; Narsimhapur: 138.4 mm; Seioni: 139.7 mm. Such heavy rainfall on August 28 was another major warning.
This is about actual rainfall. In fact, IMD forecasts for rainfall were available even earlier that these respective dates.
CWC also provided warning and advisories that SSP authorities clearly ignored CWC daily reports and advisories provided warnings in a number of ways.
It is clear from the above that SSP authorities had sufficient information to take advance action and start releasing water from the dam from August 26 evening, if not earlier. If they had gradually started water releases and built up to say 4 lakh cusecs (11300 cumecs), they could have continued to release this moderate quantity of water for the next say 10 days starting from August 26, and that would have taken care of all the flows that SSD received during August 29-September 1. The water level at SSP may have risen a bit temporarily.
This would have meant no flood disaster in the downstream area. Instead, the 4 lakh cusecs water that would have flown in this 160 km stretch of river would have benefited the river, groundwater and the eco-system in large number of ways.

Comments

TRENDING

Arrest of Fr Stan Swamy: UN makes public letter seeking explanation from Govt of India

Counterview Desk In a letter to the Government of India (GoI), three senior United Nations (UN) officials – Elina Steinerte, vice-chair of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; Mary Lawlor, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; and Fernand de Varennes, special rapporteur on minority issues – have said that the arrest of veteran activist Father Stan Swamy in October 2020 marks “the escalation of harassment the human rights defender has been subjected to since 2018.”

'These people shouldn't be in jail': UN official seeks release 16 human rights defenders

By Our Representative A United Nations human rights official has called upon the Government of India (GoI) to “immediately release" 16 human rights defenders who have been imprisoned on charges of terrorism in the Bhima-Koregaon Case, insisting, “These people should not be in jail. They are our modern-day heroes and we should all be looking to them and supporting them and demanding their release.”  

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Farm laws 'precursor' to free trade deal envisaged by US corporates to allow GMO

By Rajiv Shah Did the Government of India come up with the three farm laws, first rushed by promulgating ordinances in June 2020, to not just open the country’s agricultural sector to the corporate sector but also as a precursor to comply with the requirements of the United States for a Free Trade Agreement (FTA), as envisaged by the outgoing US president Donald Trump?

Savarkar 'criminally betrayed' Netaji and his INA by siding with the British rulers

By Shamsul Islam* RSS-BJP rulers of India have been trying to show off as great fans of Netaji. But Indians must know what role ideological parents of today's RSS/BJP played against Netaji and Indian National Army (INA). The Hindu Mahasabha and RSS which always had prominent lawyers on their rolls made no attempt to defend the INA accused at Red Fort trials.

Fr Stan's arrest figures in UK Parliament: Govt says, Indian authorities were 'alerted'

London protest for release of Stan Swamy  By Rajiv Shah Will Father Stan Swamy’s arrest, especially the fact that he is a Christian and a priest, turn out to be major international embarrassment for the Government of India? It may well happen, if a recent debate on a resolution titled “India: Persecution of Minority Groups” in the United Kingdom (UK) Parliament is any indication. While Jesuits have protested Fr Stan's arrest in UK and US, the resolution, adopted in the Parliament, said, “This House has considered the matter of persecution of Muslims, Christians and minority groups in India”.

Differing from Ambedkar, Kancha Ilaiah holds a 'different' theory of caste system

By Banavath Aravind* I was introduced to Kancha Ilaiah’s work when I was about 20 years old. He was then in the midst of a controversy for a chapter in his book "Post-Hindu India: A Discourse in Dalit-Bahujan, Socio-Spiritual and Scientific Revolution", which termed the Baniya community as social smugglers. During many of his debates, I had come to notice his undeterred fighting spirit in trying to bring up certain fundamental social issues that were hitherto undiscussed. I eventually came across some of his works and started reading them silently. I’m deliberately stressing upon the word ‘silently’ here, as this was the kind of silence particularly associated with sensitive social issues like caste, religion, etc. But, as I write this essay, I feel silences on sensitive issues should be broken. Ilaiah opened up an entirely new debate that had the vigour and strength to counter the systemic Brahmanism. His methods of research were also novel in terms of going back to the roo

New trend? Riots 'expanded' to new rural areas post-2002 Gujarat carnage: Report

A VHP poster declaring a Gujarat village part of Hindu Rashtra  By Rajiv Shah  Buniyaad, a Gujarat-based civil society organization, engaged in monitoring of communal violence in the state, in a new report, “Peaceful Gujarat: An Illusion or Truth?” has said that a “new trend” has come about in communal violence in the state, where the parts of Gujarat which didn't see communal riots in 2002 are experiencing “regular bouts” of communal violence.

More than 5,200 Gujarat schools to be closed down, merged, says govt document

RTE Forum, Gujarat, releasing fact-sheet on education By Our Representative A Gujarat government document has revealed that it is planning to close down 5,223 schools in the name of school merger. The document, dated July 20, 201 was released by the Right to Education (RTE) Forum, Gujarat. It shows that the worst-affected districts because of this merger are those which are populated by marginalized communities – especially tribals, Dalits and minorities, said RTE Forum’s Gujarat convener Mujahid Nafees.

Consumption pattern, not economic shock behind 'poor' child health indicators

By Neeraj Kumar, Arup Mitra* The findings of the latest round of National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5) conducted in 2019-20 covering 22 States/UTs under Phase-I  present a somewhat disappointing picture of children’s health in India. Majority of the experts, based on prima facie evidence, just highlighted the deteriorating sign of child health in terms of increase in proportion of stunted and underweight children in most of the phase-I states/UTs over last two rounds of NFHS (2015-16 to 2019-20).