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

What's Bill Gates up to? Have 'irregularities' found in funding HPV vaccine trials faded?

By Colin Gonsalves*  After having read the 72nd report of the Department Related Parliamentary Standing Committee on alleged irregularities in the conduct of studies using HPV vaccines by PATH in India, it was startling to see Bill Gates bobbing his head up and down and smiling ingratiatingly on prime time television while the Prime Minister lectured him in Hindi on his plans for the country. 

Muted profit margins, moderate increase in costs and sales: IIM-A survey of 1000 cos

By Our Representative  The Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad’s (IIM-A's) latest Business Inflation Expectations Survey (BIES) has said that the cost perceptions data obtained from India’s business executives suggests that there is “mild increase in cost pressures”.

Magnetic, stunning, Protima Bedi 'exposed' malice of sexual repression in society

By Harsh Thakor*  Protima Bedi was born to a baniya businessman and a Bengali mother as Protima Gupta in Delhi in 1949. Her father was a small-time trader, who was thrown out of his family for marrying a dark Bengali women. The theme of her early life was to rebel against traditional bondage. It was extraordinary how Protima underwent a metamorphosis from a conventional convent-educated girl into a freak. On October 12th was her 75th birthday; earlier this year, on August 18th it was her 25th death anniversary.

Govt putting India's professionals, skilled, unskilled labour 'at mercy of' big business

By Thomas Franco, Dinesh Abrol*  As it is impossible to refute the report of the International Labour Organisation, Chief Economic Advisor Anantha Nageswaran recently said that the government cannot solve all social, economic problems like unemployment and social security. He blamed the youth for not acquiring enough skills to get employment. Then can’t the people ask, ‘Why do we have a government? Is it not the government’s responsibility to provide adequate employment to its citizens?’

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

IMA vs Ramdev: Why what's good or bad for goose should be good or bad for gander

By Dr Amitav Banerjee, MD* Baba Ramdev and his associate Balkrishna faced the wrath of the Supreme Court for their propaganda about their Ayurvedic products and belittling mainstream medicine. Baba Ramdev had to apologize in court. His apology was not accepted and he may face the contempt of court with harsher punishment. The Supreme Court acted on a public interest litigation (PIL) moved by the Indian Medical Association (IMA).

'Flawed' argument: Gandhi had minimal role, naval mutinies alone led to Independence

Counterview Desk Reacting to a Counterview  story , "Rewiring history? Bose, not Gandhi, was real Father of Nation: British PM Attlee 'cited'" (January 26, 2016), an avid reader has forwarded  reaction  in the form of a  link , which carries the article "Did Atlee say Gandhi had minimal role in Independence? #FactCheck", published in the site satyagrahis.in. The satyagraha.in article seeks to debunk the view, reported in the Counterview story, taken by retired army officer GD Bakshi in his book, “Bose: An Indian Samurai”, which claims that Gandhiji had a minimal role to play in India's freedom struggle, and that it was Netaji who played the crucial role. We reproduce the satyagraha.in article here. Text: Nowadays it is said by many MK Gandhi critics that Clement Atlee made a statement in which he said Gandhi has ‘minimal’ role in India's independence and gave credit to naval mutinies and with this statement, they concluded the whole freedom struggle.

Youth as game changers in Lok Sabha polls? Young voter registration 'is so very low'

By Dr Mansee Bal Bhargava*  Young voters will be the game changers in 2024. Do they realise this? Does it matter to them? If it does, what they should/must vote for? India’s population of nearly 1.3 billion has about one-fifth 19.1% as youth. With 66% of its population (808 million) below the age of 35, India has the world's largest youth population. Among them, less than 40% of those who turned 18 or 19 have registered themselves for 2024 election. According to the Election Commission of India (ECI), just above 1.8 crore new voters (18-and 19-year-olds) are on the electoral rolls/registration out of the total projected 4.9 crore new voters in this age group.

Indians witnessing 'regression to Hindutva politics' under Modi ahead of elections

By Bhabani Shankar Nayak*  The forthcoming general election in India, scheduled from April 19, 2024, to June 1, 2024, to elect the 543 members of the 18th Lok Sabha and the new Government of India, carries immense significance for the preservation of India's identity as a liberal, secular, and constitutional democracy.

An equine landmark, Cheltenham Gold Cup centenary 'epitomized' heights unparalleled

By Harsh Thakor*  The Cheltenham Gold Cup  is the most prestigious jumping race in the British Isles Steeplechasing calendar and the Cheltenham festival, a cynosure of every English and Irish racegoer. Few sporting events match or surpass the sheer intensity, competitiveness and joy that radiates its legacy. Few moments are more pulsating than witnessing a Gold Cup or a Cheltenham festival. In addition to that the race is run amidst the background of an evergreen English countryside, encircled by hills and pastures, giving a sensation of a paradise or heavenly location.