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Narmada floods: Why no output at 1200 MW dam power house for 10 days? asks SANDRP

Counterview Desk 

Continuing its analysis* of unprecedented floods of the Narmada river both upstream and downstream of the Sardar Sarovar dam, the advocacy group South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) has said that the “avoidable” disaster, caused by “unaccountable” Sardar Sarovar operators could have been minimised if the River Bed Power House at the dam site had continued its operations by releasing 1200 cumecs or, 42000 cusecs of water over ten days.
Wondering why was the 1200 MW River Bed Power House stopped for 10 says since September 6, leading to the power generation loss of about 270 million units valuing over Rs 80 crore, said, “It is clear that due to the blundering of a number of agencies including the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd (SSNNL), Gujarat government, Central Water Commission (CWC), Narmada Control Authority (NCA) and others, the Sardar Sarovar dam ended up creating a man-made disaster that was completely avoidable.


The avoidable flood disaster brought in Gujarat and upstream Madhya Pradesh, starting from the night of Sept 16, 2023 by unaccountable operation of the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) Dam has created unimaginable impacts for lakhs of people in several districts, the full contours of the damage are still not fully available. But another intriguing aspect of this man-made disaster has come to light. Shockingly, there was no power generation at the 1200 MW River Bed Power House (RBPH) of the SSP from Sept 6 to Sept 16. This not only means loss of power generation of about 270 million units (MU, worth over Rs 80 Crores even at low price of Rs 3 per unit), but also it would have meant release of 1200 cumecs or, 42000 cusecs and over ten days, this would have meant reduction of about 12000 cumecs or 4.2 lakh cusecs from peak discharge, and this itself would have hugely reduced the flood disaster.

Involvement of large number of official agencies

Since SSP is an interstate project with power shared by Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat in the ratio of 57:27:16, the decision about operation of SSP power houses is taken by the inter-state coordinating body Narmada Control Authority (NCA). So the decision about stopping the operation of all six units of RBPH from Sept 5 must have been taken and approved by NCA. It also means that this decision had the approval of BJP ruled state governments of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, since they are the 57 and 27% beneficiary of the power generated at RBPH. Since NCA is essentially under Union Jal Shakti Ministry, it implies that the ministry was also in the know and had approved this step. All this goes to show that this a pre-planned move with approval and knowledge of all number of agencies.

Missing daily reports on NCA website

The NCA website daily provides the reservoir and plant report. The reservoir report provides the daily level, inflow and outflows from key reservoirs in the Narmada Valley including SSP. The Daily Plant report provides the daily generation at RBPH and CHPH (Canal Head Power House) of SSP. However, in a strange turn of events, currently, NCA website has no such reports since Sept 6, 2023.
To ascertain if the RBPH was indeed not operational for ten full days before Sept 16, 2023, we had to take recourse to alternative official sources of information, namely website of the Western Region Load Despatch Centre and the daily generation reports from National Power Portal. The date wise information on both websites corroborate that indeed none of the six 200 MW units of RBPH were operational for ten days from Sept 6 to Sept 15 (both included). During these dates four of the five 50 MW units of CHPH (the fifth one was under outage) were operational, but that too far below full capacity.
Considering that during lower rainfall August 2023, RBPH generated 842.67 MU, or about 27.18 MU per day, when the water level was also generally lower than that in Sept 2023, we can assume that RBPH could have generated at least 27 MU of power during these ten days. According to SSNNL 2023 Flood Memorandum[iii], a unit of RBHP releases 200 cumecs (7000 cusecs) water when runs at full capacity, so 6 units of RBPH would release 1200 cumecs (42000 Cusecs) water. When the total water release thus forgone due to stoppage of RBPH for ten days is counted and it would mean reduction of peak discharge from 18.61 lakh cusecs (0500 hrs on Sept 17) to no more than 13.42 lakh cusecs by this factor alone. 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.
It is clear that due to the blundering of a number of agencies including SSNNL, Gujarat government, CWC, NCA and others, the Sardar Sarovar Dam ended up creating a man-made disaster that was completely avoidable. Whether their objective was to present a full SSP releasing water from the spillways on Sept 17, 2023, for PM’s birthday is secondary issue. 
The fact is they ended up creating the massive avoidable flood disaster for lakhs of people upstream and downstream of SSP. And since they have done in the past, including 2019 and 2020 and got away unpunished means they would continue to do that for the SSP upstream and downstream population, the threat of man-made disaster will keep looming every year.

Damage worse than in Sept 2020

The full scale of the damage created by this man-made disaster is not yet known, but from whatever information is available so far, it clear that this year, the damage is much more than in the similar man-made disaster in Sept 2020. This clearly indicated by the much larger peak releases from SSP this year, at 18.61 lakh cusecs compared to around 10.5 lakh cusecs in Sept 2020. According to one report, the damage in Bharuch district alone as per available information is:
– Cities like Bharuch, Ankleshwar severely affected.
– In 4 talukas, in 216 villages, 59164 pucca houses and 44911 kutcha houses affected.
– Crops in 1.34 lakh ha destroyed.
– 5.94 people have been affected one way or the other.
– There are huge impacts on business, industries, people’s houses, and lives in general.

SSP got 50 year flood this time

If we go by the SSP flood manual 2023, the 50 year flood inflow at SSP is supposed to be 62,345 cumecs or 22.07 lakh cusecs. Compared to that, the peak inflow into SSP this time was 63950 cumecs or 22.58 lakh cusecs, at 0100 hrs on Sept 17. As we noted earlier this was the result of the heavy upstream rainfall that started on Sept 14, which both CWC and SSNNL failed to take into account and forecast the inflows. This abject failure of both these institutes raises serious questions about our ability to forecast such floods and take advance action. If with all the available information, if we cannot forecast even peak inflows, how can be hope to prevent and reduce disasters?

Did SSP receive and release higher than CWC figures?

The peak outflow from SSP, if we go by CWC figures, was 18.61 lakh cusecs at 0500 hrs on Sept 17. However, as per SSNNL Flood Memorandum 2023, with water level of 38.9 m, the flow at Garudeshwar would be 60550 cumecs or 21.38 lakh cusecs.
Similarly with actual water level of 12.34 m attained at Golden Bridge in Bharuch, the flow would be 65000 cumecs or 22.95 lakh cusecs, much higher than the water release of 18.61 L cusecs as per CWC hydrograph. Part of the increase could be due to the catchment downstream from SSP, but there could also be some inaccuracy in CWC figures.

Did under construction Bhadbhut barrage worsen the floods in the upstream?

The Bhadbhut barrage on Narmada river in Gujarat is under construction, downstream of Bharuch. About 400 m of rivers from both northern and southern side of the barrage is blocked currently for the project, leaving just about 800 m of gap in between. This obstruction in the path of water is bound to create additional submergence in the upstream, on both sides of the river. It is feared by many in Gujarat that this may have been a factor in further increasing the flood disaster.

Lame Excuse of Gujarat government 

The Gujarat government so far has not been able to come out with any explanation for this man-made disaster created by them. The only rather lame excuse that both the Narmada minister and Chief Minister has come out is that there were heavy rains in the catchment, releases from upstream dams and inflow of over 22 lakh cusecs and they actually managed to reduce the outflow to 18.61 lakh cusecs. This does not explain anything and it actually insults the intelligence of the audience. These were facts known in advance, why did they not take action of advance releases? Why they could not forecast inflows? Why they did not operate any of the RBPH units for ten days prior to Sept 16, when they operated them throughout August and up to Sept 5? Why was there no disaster management in place? Why there is no accountability of the man-made disasters created in the past by SSP including in 2020? Why there is no inquiry into past disasters?
Clearly there is a lot that the concerned agencies like SSNNL, Gujarat government , NCA, CWC and Union government , Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh government , among others need to answer to the lakhs of people who have suffered due to this avoidable disaster.
*Click here for previous analysis



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