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Why Medigadda Dam Safety Report is self-indictment of India’s dam safety mechanism

Counterview Desk 

The advocacy group, South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP), referring to the Dam Safety Panel report of Medigadda Dam disaster in Telangana, has said in a detailed analysis that the report is “a self-indictment of the Dam Safety Mechanism in India” – a fact “written in large letters throughout the report.”
Even as welcoming the Government of India for acting with unusual haste on the Medigadda Dam disaster, SANDRP wonders why such a situation was allowed to happen even after so many dam-related disasters recently. 
“We hope there is greater consistency in functioning of the National Dam Safety Authority (NDSA), Central Water Commission (CWC) and the Jal Shakti Ministry so that criticism of use of the Dam Safety for political ends do not get any justification”, it insists.

Text:

The Dam Safety Panel from Union Ministry of Jal Shakti has submitted its report on Nov 1, 2023, which says the disaster at the Medigadda Dam occurred “due to a combination of issues involving planning, design, quality control and Operation and maintenance” of the Dam. The report concludes: “The barrage under the present condition is rendered useless until fully rehabilitated.”
By now some six pillars of Block 7 of the Medigadda barrage on Godavari river along Maharashtra Telangana Border have been found to have sunk, as noticed first in the evening of Oct 21 2023.
Underlining that the problem is affecting the whole Dam and rehabilitating the thole dam, and not only the six piers of 7th block, the report says: “the likelihood of the failure of other blocks resulting in a similar mode exists. This would warrant rehabilitating the whole barrage.”
The report goes further and says that two other barrages of the Kaleshwaram may suffer the safe fate: “The two barrages constructed upstream of Medigadda under the Kaleshwaram Project, viz; Annaram and Sundilla barrages, have similar designs and construction methodologies, making them prone to similar failure modes. Signs of boiling already exist downstream of Annaram Barrage, a precursor to failure. These barrages also should be examined urgently for signs of piping/ distress.”
The letter dated Nov 1 2023 from Union Govt’s Sanjay Kumar Sibal, additional secretary to the Union Ministry of Jal Shakti, to the Telangana Additional Chief Secretary Water Resources, Shri Rajat Kumar accompanying the report says: “A detailed investigation may be carried out to determine the failure’s causes.” The letter asks the Telangana official to report to the Union Govt about such an investigation, remedial measures for the Medigadda Dam and two other upstream barrages which are part of the Kaleshwaram Project.
Indicting the L&T Ltd, the company that constructed the dam, the report says: “The construction methodology adopted for transverse cut-offs has imposed different conditions than what was assumed in the design. The alignment of the flared-out wall provided upstream of the barrage makes the barrage hydraulic deficient.”
The report says: “There are deficiencies in the project planning & design as well. The Barrage has been designed as a floating structure but constructed as a rigid structure.” It is interesting to know that, this means that Central Water Commission (CWC), the Union Jal Shakti Ministry and the National Dam Safety Authority (NDSA) had no clue about this major gap between design and actual construction of the dam!

Lapses on Operation and Maintenance: What did CWC do to correct it?

The report says: “The dam owner is supposed to undertake sounding and probing in the apron area every year immediately after the monsoon to assess the scours and launching of aprons in the vicinity of structures. The non-launching portion should also be carefully examined, particularly downstream, to ensure the effectiveness of the inverted filter. The upstream floor should be inspected every year early in the fair weather season by probing and using underwater lamps. A careful inspection of joints is also to be carried out. The dam owners have not inspected or maintained the cement concrete blocks or launching aprons since the commissioning of the barrage in 2019-20. In this regard, this maintenance deficiency of the dam owners has progressively weakened the barrage, leading to its failure. This is a significant lapse on the operation and maintenance front.”
If this was the state of the affairs since 2019-20, what did the CWC, the Union Jal Shakti Ministry and the NDSA do to correct this for so many years? Why did they wake up to such crucial lapses only after the disaster? If they did not know about this, it shows poor state of the governance of our dams by CWC, Union Jal Shakti Ministry and NDSA. And if they knew and could not do anything about it, it speaks worse about our Dam Safety Governance. Is this is the state of affairs at all over dams all over India?

A self-indictment of the Dam Safety Mechanism?

Is the report a self-indictment of the Dam Safety Mechanism in India? That is written in large letters throughout the report.
The report concludes: “it is construed that the I&CAD (Irrigation and Command Area Development) Dept. has nothing to submit about instrumentation data, pre-monsoon &post monsoon inspection reports, completion reports, quality control reports, condition of gates and many other inputs sought in the list therein”.
In Gujarat, Sardar Sarovar Dam caused avoidable flood disaster on Sept 16-18 2023, but there was no report from Dam Safety Panel
How and why did the NDSA allow such a state of affairs to continue for such an important dam that has huge implications for life and economy as the report itself says? What steps did the NDSA take before this disaster struck to ensure that all these basic dam safety measures were indeed in place and functioning? What is NDSA doing to ensure that all such basic steps and measures are in place at all the large dams in India. What did NDSA do to ensure that this dam, important from the point of view of life and economy, was also listed in CWC’s National Register of Large Dams? What has NDSA done to ensure that CWC’s National Register is indeed updated every year with inclusion of all large dams of India as per its definition and all their salient features? What has NDSA done to ensure that all Dam Safety information is in public domain promptly?
The answer, unfortunately, seems like: NDSA has done nothing on any of these fronts. That way, the Medigadda Dam Safety Report is a self-indictment of India’s Dam Safety Mechanism.

Why no Dam Safety Panel on other Dam Disasters this year?

It is interesting to see the alacrity shown by the Union Govt on this dam disaster. The disaster came to light on Oct 21, 2023. The very next day, on Oct 22, 2023, Union Ministry of Jal Shakti issues a letter constituting a Dam Safety Panel of six members headed by Shri Anil Jain, Chairman of National Dam Safety Authority and including Shri S K Sharma, R Thangamani, Rahul K Singh, Devendra Rao and Praveen Annepu, all part of CWC (Central Water Commission). On Oct 23, 2023, the DSP panel reaches Telangana, completes the vist on Oct 27, 2023. Issues deadline of Oct 29 2023 to provide necessary documents and brings out the report on Nov 1 2023. The report is already getting circulated in media on Nov 3 2023.
Immediately after the report was out, Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat tweeted: “Exposed! K Chandrashekar Rao led Telangana govt’s corruption stands hopelessly exposed. It is appalling to know that the greed & corruption of the BRS govt has led to risking the lives of lakhs of people & loss of crores of rupees of taxpayers’ money”.
However, even the first movement is not seen even a month after in case of bigger dam safety disasters in Sikkim on Oct 3-4 2023 involving not only washing away of 1200 MW Teesta 3 dam, but also severely damaging NHPC’s operating Teesta 5 dam, and under construction Teesta 6 dam and also the privately owned Dikchu Hydropower project.
Similarly there is massive landslide at India’s largest capacity, 2000 MW Lower Subansiri Hydropower Project on Assam Arunachal Pradesh border on Oct 27 2023, where the full top brass of NHPC starting from Chairman and Managing Director downwards, and also senior officials of the Central Electricity Authority, Geological Society of India and also the contractor are camping. But till date there is no movement from NDSA or Union Jal Shakti Ministry.
There were similar dam disasters in Himachal Pradesh during the 2023 SW Monsoon involving Larji Hydropower project, the Malana II Hydropower project and also wrong operation of Bhakra, Pong, Pindar and other dams, but there is no Dam Safety Panel in place. In Gujarat, Sardar Sarovar Dam on Narmada causes avoidable flood disaster on Sept 16-18 2023, but there is again no report from Dam Safety Panel.
So while the prompt action about the Medigadda Dam Disaster is certainly welcome, we hope there is greater consistency in functioning of the NDSA, CWC and Jal Shakti Ministry so that criticism of use of the Dam Safety for political ends do not get any justification.

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