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Busy in political event, Gujarat govt 'evaded' plans to reduce massive Narmada floods

Counterview Desk 
Farmer rights group Khedut Ekta Manch Gujarat in a letter to Bhupendrabhai Patel, chief minister, with copies sent to the officials concerned, has asked the Gujarat government to form an independent committee to investigate the recent massive flooding in Narmada, even as seeking proper compensation to those affected by the disaster, many of whom are farmers.
Suggesting that it was largely a man-made disaster caused by poor food control planning, the NGO letter, signed by farmers’ leader Sagar Rabari, said, the issues it has raised in the letter are based on the data available in the public domain. “Needless to say, failure to provide a response within 15 days of the receipt of this letter will invite legal actions in the larger interest”, it warned.

Text:

We, a registered non-profit farmers’ organization working across Gujarat, are deeply worried about the downstream people of Sardar Sarovar Dam (SSD) on river Narmada at Kevadiya, Dist. Narmada after the sudden release of water from the dam on 17th September. As we are talking to the farmers/villagers there, the damage to standing crops like sugar cane, banana, and others, the land loss, the cattle loss, and household loss caused due to the sudden flooding is huge.
The sudden flooding devastated the Bharuch, and Ankleshwar towns and the villages down to Ankleshwar and Bharuch Taluka, on the Vadodara side, the water reached up to Karajan and on the other side, it reached Hansot town. Lakhs of people have been affected. The loss in material and animal life costs is huge. We strongly believe this is a man-made disaster, not natural.
We have enough reasons to firmly believe this is a human-made disaster because the data on the government website www.nca.gov.in was suppressed for 14 days, from 6th September to 20th of September, and was not uploaded on the website that provides data of daily inflow, outflow, and rainfall in the last 24 hours in the catchment areas. We are unable to understand why the data was suppressed. Was it intentional, to mislead the downstream people? Failure to upload the data for 14 consecutive days CANNOT be unintentional. The victims of this flooding have the right to know the intention/s. We request you to clear the air.
The data uploaded on 20th September shows that

On 14th September

  • The Bargi dam was full at 98% of its capacity, when the rain started, and 125.7 cumecs (4438 cusecs) of water was released.
  • The Tawa dam reached 99% of its capacity, releasing 21,510.85 cusecs, and the rain started in its upstream.
  • The Indira Sagar dam was at 95% of its capacity, releasing 316.0 cumecs (11,157.96 cusecs) of water, the rain started upstream.
  • Though the Omkareshvar dam was at 33% capacity, it released 404.9 cumecs (14297 cusecs) water in anticipation of the rain upstream and increased inflow.
  • The Sardar Sarovar Dam (SSD) was at 79% of its capacity, the water inflow was 485 cumec (17,125 cusecs), releasing only 437 cumec (15,430 cusecs) water On 15th September,
  • The Bargi dam was at 100% of its capacity, its catchment area received 108.8 mm of rain in the previous 24 hours,
  • The Tawa dam was at 99% of its capacity, its catchment area received 13.2 mm of rain in the previous 24 hours.
  • The Indira Sagar dam was at 96% of its capacity, its catchment area received 9 mm of rain in the previous 24 hours.
  • The Omkareshvar dam was at 39% of its capacity, its catchment area received.
  • 43.2 mm of rain in the previous 24 hours, and it was releasing 438.4 cumecs (15,479.90 cusecs) water. It was certain that this total quantity of water was to reach SSD within 20 hours.
  • The SSD was at 80% of its capacity, the total inflow at SSD was 769 cumec (27,153.39 cusec), and the total outflow was 397.5 cumec (14,035.72 cusec).

On 16th September

  • Bargi dam was at 103% of its capacity, its catchment received 1.2 mm of rain and hence it increased its release to 2702.7 cumecs.
  • Tawa Dam was at 98% of its capacity, and it received 120.2 mm of rain in the previous 24 hours in its catchment areas and so it too increased its release to 8,534.3 cumecs.
  • The Indira Sagar dam was at 100% of its capacity, its catchment area received 120.2 mm of rain in previous 24 hours so it increased its release to 8534.3 cumec (301346.13 cusecs).
  • The Omkareshvar dam was at 96% of its capacity, its catchment area received 132.4 mm of rain in the previous 24 hours, so, it increased its release to 4,656.4 cumecs (1,64,417.48 cusecs).
  • At the same time, the SSD was 83% full, was receiving 2,164 cumec (76,410.84 cusecs) of water as inflow but was releasing only 393 cumec (13,876.83 cusecs) of water.

On 17th September, 8 am …

  • All the dams upstream were almost full, and the entire Narmada Basin was receiving rain.
  • At 8 am, the SSD had a storage of 5,760 MCM, and had reached 100% capacity, the inflow was 41,605 cumec (14,69,072.55 cusecs) and the outflow was 29,798.8 cumec (10,52,195.62 cusecs).
Based on the above data, we have the following questions and ask you to give us the answers:
1. Please provide the hourly data of inflow, storage and release of water in the canal and river from 8 am of 16th Sept. to 5 pm of 17th Sept. The calculations of 14, 15 and 16th September 2023 are very important to uncover the real culprit responsible for this disaster.
2. On the 15th the SSD was at 80% capacity, and the inflow was 769 cumec (27,153.39 cusecs), on the 16th, it was 83% full, getting 2,164 cumecs (76,410.84 cusecs), which means that the inflow of 16th reached SSD between 8 am on 15th September and 8 am 16th September. And here comes the mismanagement/conspiracy: why was the water reaching SSD between 15th and 16th morning not properly calculated and why was the data intentionally suppressed? Why the water was withheld for such a long time needs to be properly investigated, the sufferers and the people of Gujarat have the right to know all details about their lifeline that became their destroyer. Exactly what time does the SSD reach its full capacity? This fact should be known to Gujarat.
3. As per the social media X handle @CMOGuj posted a photo on 17th at 9.11 am welcoming the Narmada water in the river basin downstream of the dam. Was it planned before? Were the authorities told not to release water till the CM reaches there to welcome water or not?
4. As per the data, the dam was at its full capacity much before 8 a.m. on 17th September, then, why the Chief Minister of Gujarat welcomed water on 17th September? What was the reason? Was the Chief Minister to welcome Narmada water into the river basin, the water was withheld for such a long time at the risk of downstream people.
5. The data uploaded shows the status of 18th September at 8 am, the 24 hours between 17th morning 8 am to 18th morning 8 am, indicates that during the day time of 17th, the inflow in SSD was 38,816 cumec (13,70,592.96 cusecs), and the outflow in the spillway was 37,157.1 cumec (13,12,017.20 cusecs). How this much quantum of water not anticipated by the concerned authorities and preparations were made to avoid calamity.
6. On the other side, the advocacy group SANDRP reported:
“In fact the rainfall that brought these floods to SSP started on Sept 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 Sept 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 Sept 14 itself, considering these figures.
“The district wise rainfall reported by IMD for the 24 hrs ending at 0830 hrs on 16 Sept 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.
“…. 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 Sept 17 and then maintaining at around that high level for several hours thereafter.
“But the SSP authorities waited for the water level at SSP reach FRL of 138.68 m 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 Sept 17, 2023.”

As SANDRP reports, “the SSP authorities got away with unaccountable reservoir operations in Sept. 2020…”. This means that this is not the first time that the SSP authorities have done such a thing, and hence it is most probably not unintentional. It is imperative that accountability be fixed this time around.
7. The 24-hour data provided by www.nca.gov.in on the 20th September, analysis needs hourly data to fix accountability of the officers concerned for suppression of facts, wrong calculations of estimated water flow, mismanagement of inflow, storage and release and most crucial to find the main culprit for the huge loss of livelihood to lakhs of people, the destroyed crops, the dead animals and destroyed agriculture land on both the banks and huge damage to the large industrial estate at Ankleshwar GIDC. For this, we demand an independent inquiry commission chaired by an expert/seating high court judge/expert from public life with members from public life as well as the concerned departments.
8. What were the Narmada Control Authority, the Government of Gujarat, and the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd doing for the 20 to 72 hours that water took to reach SSP from upstream rain in MP?
Failure to provide a response within 15 days of the receipt of this letter will invite legal actions in the larger interest
According to a Scroll.com report, “A top official of the Narmada Control Authority told Scroll that the floods were “man-made” since even in conditions of the heavy rainfall, the water release “could have been comfortably managed.”
Tejram Nayak, member (civil) of the Narmada Control Authority, “said the abrupt release of water should have been avoided. “Gates should have been opened partially at least 48 hours before they were.” Said Nayak, a senior scientist at the National Institute of Hydrology.
The report alarmingly, further states that, “However, Nayak pointed out that while there were “drought-like” conditions in the region since August, the weather forecast suggested a turn in the conditions in September. “I had instructed the dam authority to operate (the river bed) powerhouse with full capacity on September 7 itself.”
When asked if the Narmada Control Authority had instructed the Sardar Sarovar authorities to open the gates in view of the higher inflow from upstream, Secretary D Ilanchezhiyan responded with a loaded sentence, “We acted very correctly according to the mandate.” Who mandated what is to be inquired independently.
On the other side, Nayak said the final decision on whether to open the spillway lay with the dam authorities. “We can give only directions to the chief engineer,” “Why they did not open, you have to ask them.”
9. When it was heavily raining up-stream the quantity of water being released was continuously reduced in the canal providing irrigation water to North Gujarat and Saurashtra where it had not rained since the entire of August and till the 15 of September, farmers were seeking water to irrigate their standing crop. As a farmers' organization we need to know who failed to make an appropriate decision, and whether is there an inquiry or action followed or not.
10. Who are the responsible/accountable officers who failed to calculate the expected quantity of water and make appropriate decisions? Is there any plan to take action against them?
11. The BBC report cites that, “If the SSNNL officers had used the instructions they had received from various agencies and the system they have to speculate flood, this flooding would have been avoided.” These are serious revelations from the officers blaming others and need to be properly investigated.
12. As claimed by Cabinet Minister Shri Rishikeshbhai Patel in a press conference, the quantity of total water came in the last one and half days – 36 hours – was equal to fill the entire reservoir. Where were the Narmada Control Authority, the government, and the SSNNL team for those 36 hours? What were they doing? Exactly at what time the 18 or 22 lakh cusecs of water released as the Cabinet Minister informed the media. This is the question people want to know.
13. The SANDRP and BBC reports cites that the authority had 20 to 72 hours of time to avoid this calamity if the upstream dam FRL, the rain water and the weather predictions timely calculated and water was released accordingly.
SANDRP reports…: “Considering that the SSNNL authorities had about 72 additional hours to take advance action, the peak discharge from SSP could have been brought down further to around 6-7 lakh cusecs, which would have meant practically no flooding.”
We, the people, want to know what preparations were made to reduce the risk of flooding. No details of precautionary measures were made public even after the flooding receded.
14. What was the chain of command – who decided to withhold data, water release in the canal, and stop powerhouses should be known to the public. We request you to provide the details of who took what decisions before and during the sudden release of water.
15. Why the flood protection wall proposed from Golden Bridge to Tariya village of taluka Ankleshwar, dist. Bharuch is not built, though it was sanctioned and announced in 2019? Could the flooding risk have been reduced if the wall had timely built? We request you to provide the details of the delay.
16. Has the half-built Bhadbhut barrage played any role in the increase in flooding and damage caused on both banks?
17. Why have the land acquisition awards been delayed to avoid compensating the farmers whose land has been submerged in previous flooding? Why the collector not announcing the awards? When will they be compensated? How will the damage be assessed and, when the protection wall would be built? Please provide details.
18. Does the Narmada Control Authority/GoG/SSNNL have any plans to avoid such flood/flooding after the Bhadbhut dam has been fully built?
19. What lessons the concerned authorities have learned from the Ukai flooding 17 years back which caused huge damage to the downstream villagers and Surat City, please provide the details.
20. We want to know the data on the basis of what the Cabinet Minister briefed before the press conference on 18th September, Please, provide the data.
21. What are the lessons learned from the disaster/flooding? Please provide the details if any.
22. Please provide the details of the back water-affected people in Madhya Pradesh and the compensation they have been given.
23. The compensation announced by the Gujarat Government is insufficient. The 25000/- Rs. per hectare does not cover even the sowing cost of crops like Banana or Sugarcane, same is true with the other crops also. We request you to increase the maximum limit for regular crops, and short-term and long-term horticulture crops. The compensation amount for kachcha and pukka houses too is very low.
24. No compensation has been announced for homeless people, we request to provide them with proper relief.
25. The shop owners and the industries have suffered, consider proper compensation to them too.
With the data available in the public domain, after analysis, there are a few serious questions that need to be answered:
  • Were there any written or oral instructions to withhold data and water release or not?
  • Exactly at what time does SSD reach its full capacity? What was the inflow at that time?
  • Exactly at what time the gates were opened? By whose order?
  • Who withheld the data for 14 days?
  • Is the data manipulated or not?
  • Who decided to reduce canal water?
  • Who decided to suddenly release water?
  • Actually at what time the water was released and what was the status of the storage at that time?
  • Were there any timely instructions received by SSNNL from the concerned agencies or not?
  • Who failed to act according to the information/instructions if received from the concerned agencies?
  • Which agency is actually responsible for this huge loss to the affected people?
  • What role did the half-built Bhadbhut check dam play in the damage?
  • What would be the scenario if the Bhadbhut check dam had been fully built?
On the facts and questions cited above, we demand,
  1. To form an independent committee immediately to investigate into the lapses, the intentional data suppression, and the mismanagement of the flooding chaired by an subject expert / High Court judge with well-recognized expert members with representation from the affected people.
  2. The time limit to submit the final report must not be more than 3 months.
  3. The inquiry/cases against those found responsible must be completed within stipulated time and they must be punished.
  4. The report must be binding to the Government to take action and implement the suggestions by the committee.
  5. Shelter homes must be built at mutually agreed appropriate places to save the lives of the people living on footpaths or huts.
  6. We also demand to re-structure the relief package to compensate the affected including the homeless, small shopkeepers, and industries.
  7. Any other adequate steps/demands suggested by the affected people.
We request you to provide this information within 15 days of the receipt of this letter, lakhs of people, animals, and thousands of hectares of land have been affected. We need to fix accountability to avoid future failures, flooding, and disaster. 
These are the issues we are raising based on the data available in the public domain, we reserve our right to raise more if more data, and details come to us.
Needless to say, failure to provide a response within 15 days of the receipt of this letter will invite legal actions in the larger interest.

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