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Narmada flood has led to massive soil erosion: Activist disputes Gujarat govt-backed claim

By Our Representative
Senior environmentalist Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP), has disputed the claim by four top retired officials that the Sardar Sarovar Dam’s (SSD’s) “systematic operation” helped avert severe flood in Bharuch between August 29 and September 2, asserting, the flood disaster “happened entirely due to the sudden release of massive quantities of water from SSD.” 
The four ex-officials are KV Sanghavi, retired secretary, Gujarat government; JB Patel and Dr VM Yagnik, retired chief engineers, Gujarat government; and LS Sharma, retired Managing Director, Electronics & Quality Development Centre, Government of India. 
They had criticized Thakkar, who had stated that SSD operators could have possibly avoided “massive, disastrous flood flow for the downstream area” by staggering the releases from SSD in Narmada river over a longer period, starting in mid-August.
The Gujarat government agency controlling SSD, Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd (SSNNL), endorsed the analysis by the ex-officials, stating, the systematic operation on SSD is a “classic example” of integrated operation of the reservoir, and the analysis proves that the critics who called the operation avoidable disaster are “wrong”.
Wondering why couldn’t SSD operate differently in order to help avoid or hugely reduce the flood disaster in Bharuch, Thakkar, in a fresh critique, has now said, “New dimensions of the disaster are still unfolding. One of the latest dimensions has been the massive soil erosion from the lands on the banks of Narmada and its tributaries.” He added, another issue is “the loss to the fisherfolks in the Narmada estuary.”
Especially disagreeing with the four ex-officials’ view that the flooding took place because the entire stretch of river Narmada from Amarkantak to Sardar Sarovar Project (1,163 km) was subjected to heavy rains during the fortnight of August 16 to 31, Thakkar said, it raises the question as to why SSD operators woke up only on August 28 night if the rainfall was falling since August 16. They could have released water much in advance.
On August 21-22, said Thakkar, Narmada basin received “very high rainfall”, as is apparent from Indian Meteorological Department’s daily district wise rainfall figures for 48 hours ending at 0830 hours on August 23. Thus, Indore received 273.2 mm, Sehore 237.6 mm, Khandwa 224.7 mm, Raisen 147.8 mm, Dhar 134.4 mm; Hoshangabad 122.3 mm, and Harda 112.8 mm.
Just prior to that, on August 19, due to an earlier bout of heavy rains in upper Narmada basin, there was peak inflow into Bargi dam, which reached the full reservoir level. This was due to “heavy three-day rainfall in upper Narmada basin, from August 16 to 18: Mandla 140.9 mm; Jabalpur 125 mm; Dindori 122.6 mm; Balaghat 115.5 mm and Katni 93.9 mm.
Insisted Thakkar, this bout of rainfall in fact was “sufficient” to trigger the opening of SSD gates starting on August 21-22, which would have provided “sufficient time” to keep releasing around 3 lakh cusecs of water for the next two weeks.
“This would have then not only averted the flood disaster in Bharuch; the water would have been useful for people, river, eco-system and even power generation”, he added.
The rainfall, said Thakkar, led to inflows to SSD of over six fold jumping from 832 cumecs (cubic meters per second) on August 22 to 5,311 cumecs on August 24, which was enough to require for opening the gates starting August 22, adding, the “actionable information of warning had begun on August 16 itself.”
As for four ex-officials’ claim that due the heavy rainfall, big dams in the Narmada valley in upstream Madhya Pradesh, like Indira Sagar, Omkaershwar, Bargi, Tawa etc. got filled up, which led to release of water from upstreadm, Thakkar said, this only shows that the SSD operators should have started “opening up spillway gates much earlier”, pointing out, the result was, there massive flooding of Bharuch district. He regretted, those who suffered as a result of the floods have not even provided “any support”.

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