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Avoidable Narmada floods: Modi birthday fete caused long wait for release of dam waters

Counterview Desk 

Top advocacy group, South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP), has accused the Sardar Sarovar dam operators for once again acting in an "unaccountable" manner, bringing "avoidable floods in downstream Gujarat." 
In a detailed analysis, SANDRP has said that the water level at the Golden Bridge in Bharuch approached the highest flood level on September 17, 2023, but these "could have been significantly lower and much less disastrous" both for the upstream and downstream areas of the dam, if the authorities had taken action earlier based on available actionable information.
One possible reason, said SANDRP in a statement, is that the dam authorities avoided gradual and sustained release of water from the dam till the morning of September 17 in order to carry out the ceremony conducted at the dam site by the Gujarat Chief Minister in order to wish happy birthday to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.


Late, lethargic and unaccountable actions of Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) Dam operators have once again contributed to huge and largely avoidable downstream floods in Gujarat. The water level at Golden Bridge in Bharuch is approaching HFL (Highest Flood Level) on September 17, 2023, but these floods could have been significantly lower and much less disastrous both for SSP upstream and downstream areas if SSP authorities had taken action earlier based on actionable information available and based on sound reservoir operation principles of following a rule curve.
In fact, the rainfall that brought these floods to SSP started on September 14 in districts like Khargone (40.9 mm), Mandla (69.2 mm), Narsimhpura (50 mm), Seoni (137.9 mm), Balaghat (149.6 mm), Harda (23.6 mm), Jabalpur (30.6 mm) and Khandwa (27.6 mm) as reported by IMD (India Meteorology Department) for the district wise rainfall reported for the 24 hrs ending at 0830 hours on September 15, 2023. If SSP authorities and CWC (Central Water Commission) had started inflow forecasts based on the hourly catchment area rainfall figures they would be getting, they could have started increases the downstream releases from SSP on September 14 itself, considering these figures.
The district-wise rainfall reported by IMD for the 24 hrs ending at 0830 hrs on 16 September 2023 was much higher: Khargone (144.6 mm), Alirajpur (108.2 mm), Dewas (149.7 mm), Dhar (80.4 mm), Harda (205.2 mm), Jhabua (92.4 mm), Khandwa (147.6 mm) and Narmadapuram (131.7 mm), among others. Since CWC and SSP authorities get hourly updates on rainfall in the catchment, they could have started inflow forecasting and increased releases within the carrying capacity of the downstream river even before IMD reported these 24 hrs figures at 0830 hrs.
The gates of the Bargi dam on Narmada were already opened on 14th September. By the late evening hours on Sept 15, the levels of both Indira Sagar and Omkareshwar dam on Narmada had started going up, as reported by CWC.Both Omkareshwar and Indira Sagar dams were close to their FRL (Full Reservoir Levels) by the late hours on Sept 15, Bargi had already reached FRL much earlier. All these high levels were also clearly in violation of the rule curves. This was yet another indication for SSP authorities to start opening gates of SSP on September 14 and 15 as the water released from these upstream dams were bound to come to SSP.
However, till 10 am on Sept 16, shockingly, SSP authorities had still not opened any of the gates, the releases were only from River Bed Power House (RBPH) and Canal Head Power House (CHPH), amounting to total of less than 400 cumecs (Cubic Meters per Second). They started releases only after that, rising to 1600 cumecs by 1200 hrs and 11500 cumecs by 1500 hrs.
This period of almost 48 to 72 hours of inaction, when there was sufficient actionable information available to CWC and SSNNL (Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited, who owns and operates SSP) to start water releases from SSP to the downstream river, lead to the SSP authorities having to release upto 52706 cumecs (18.76 lakh cusecs) by 0500 hrs on September 17 and then maintaining at around that high level for several hours thereafter. 

These flows were certainly way beyond the carrying capacity of the Narmada river downstream of the dam, affecting tens of thousands of people and families. Similarly this lead to massive backwater impacts in the upstream of the dam.
Sufficient actionable information for authorities was available to start releasing water from the dam earlier, and avoid the massive disaster they created
Starting early hours on Sept 16, there were almost a dozen sites in the Narmada valley on CWC flood forecasting monitoring, where the water level had already breached the previous Highest Flood Levels (HFL), some of these were (click to see screenshots):
1. Karam at Dahiwar in Dhar District;
2. Choral at Barwah in Khargone district;
3. Datuni at Dudwas in Dewas district;
4. Beda at Satwadi (Gogawa) in Kharone district;
5. Hathed at Misrod in Hoshangabad district;
6. Deb at Khajuri in Badwani district;
7. Kalimachak at Charuwa in Harda district;
8. Kaner at Mendhikheda in Khargone district;
9. Borad at Thikri in Badwani district;
10. Bamgarh in Khadwa dist (Chhota Tawa river) in Khandwa Dist;
11. Abna at Khandwa district;
12. Mandaleshwar in Khargone district.
This was yet another reason for the SSP authorities take advance action, but they did not.
It is pertinent to note here that such heavy rainfall was already forecast by IMD and even global news channels like BBC even on the night of September 15. But even if the SSP and CWC authorities would like to call such forecasts unreliable, the rainfall that had already happened in the Narmada basin since Sept 14, was sufficient actionable information for the SSP authorities to start releasing water from the SSP dam earlier, and avoid the massive disaster they have created.
But the SSP authorities waited for the water level at SSP reach FRL of 138.68 metres by 0500 hrs on Sept 17. Once the water level reached FRL, the SSP authorities had no option but. To release all the inflows, which the CWC had already forecast to cross 20000 cumecs, a gross under estimate in any case. The inflows into SSP reached 63950 cumecs (22.58 lakh cusecs) by 0100 hrs on September 17, 2023.
One possible clue as to what the SSP authorities were waiting for was providing by the ceremony conducted at the dam site on the morning of September 17 by the Chief Minister, also thanking and wishing happy birthday to Shri Narendra Modi, Prime Minister.
This is not the first time that Gujarat authorities have thus wishes happy birthday to the Prime Minister. They have done that in the past too, almost every year since 2017. In Sepember 2020, in the process, they created a similar avoidable flood disaster downstream of SSP dam. Gujarat authorities in fact falsely claimed then that they saved Bharuch! On the contrary, they had violated their own flood management norms. Some of these can also be read in Gujarati here and here.
The fact is that the SSP authorities got away with unaccountable reservoir operations in September 2020 among other occasions and so did the numerous other dam operators across India. This gives another reason why the SSP authorities may not have bothered to take advance action warranted both on the basis of past experience, actionable information and rule curve requirements. They were pretty sure that no one is going to touch them or held accountable. All this also shows how inadequate is the Dam Safety Act the paraphernalia of institutions created around it both at state level and central level. It also shows that how CWC authorities have once again failed in their task and they are also going to not having to answer any questions.


Gyan Prakash said…
I have raised this issue before Hon'ble Supreme Court in my WP No. 1093/2019 to direct Dam Owners to take Insurance under Public Liability Insurance Act 1991 under Environment Protection Act. Activists can intervenne in Supreme Court. I will provide all assistance. Gyan Prakash Founder Forum For Traffic Safety & Environmental Sanitation. In Supreme Court My other WP 1272/2019 on Highways Safety will get Final Hearing on 10th. October 2023 at 2.00 PM in Court No. 11.


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