Bhakra Dams

BBMB & Punjab ill prepared to use water flows to Bhakra dams in 2019 summer

It’s pretty unusual situation in Bhakra, Pong and Ranjit Sagar dams this summer. These reservoirs on Sutlej, Beas and Ravi rivers respectively, allocated to India under Indo-Pak Indus Waters Treaty, are releasing so much water this summer that a significant part of it is flowing into Pakistan, much against the proclamations of the Government.

The nation, including the Northern region faces record breaking high temperatures, dry weather and large part of India faces drought. The nation watches with baited breath the progress of the annual bounty of monsoon. The Northern India would have to wait about a month before it can start getting the showers in July 2019, partly due to delay induced by storm VAYU in Arabian Sea.

But the Bhakra and Pong reservoirs maintained by BBMB[i] (Bhakra Beas Management Board) and Ranjit Sagar Dam on Ravi managed by the Punjab government have been literally releasing Billions of litres of water on daily basis since around April 25, 2019, till I write this on June 12, 2019.

Even if we take just the depletion of storage in these three reservoirs between April 25 and June 6, the three reservoirs have released 1736 MILLION CUBIC METERS (MCM) of water or 1736 BILLION LITRES OF WATER. The Bhakra dam had 3.504 BCM (Billion Cubic Meters) water on April 25, which went down to 2.738 BCM by June 6, as per CWC’s weekly reservoir bulletin[ii]. Pong dam had 2.904 BCM water storage on April 25, which went down to 2.336 BCM by June 6. Similarly, Ranjit Sagar Dam storage reduced from 1.880 BCM to 1.477 BCM in the same period. The water levels in the three reservoirs started rising at least from March 28, 2019, so the reservoir manages had long enough time to be prepared to use the water, but as we see below, they were so ill prepared that they had to release the precious water without being used. [POST SCRIPT: As per CWC Reservoir Level Bulletin of June 13, 2019, the three reservoirs were further depleted by 0.253 BCM in this last week, the total depletion since April 25 comes to 1.989 BCM. The depletion that would happen from June 13 would be counted as used for irrigation, as the Paddy transplantation legally starts on June 13 in Punjab, unless there is further information of releases to Pakistan from Harike/ Ferozepur barrages.]

The actual water release would be MUCH HIGHER, since during the same period, the three reservoirs continued to get more inflows, which too would have been released during the period. Earlier BBMB used to provide daily figures of inflows and outflows at various reservoirs and other points, but unfortunately, BBMB has now stopped providing this information.

Power generation figures corroborate This situation has been corroborated by power generation figures at Bhakra dams during the period say between April 1 and June 8, 2019 (the date for which latest figures are available, see:, compared to same period last year ( More power generation means more water release from the dams.

  • Bhakra Dam with installed capacity of 1379 MW, generated 1090 Million Units (MU, one Unit is one KWHr) in the period in 2019, more than double the quantum of 681 MU a year earlier.
  • 990 MW capacity Dehar power house that is Beas Sutlej diversion produced 929 MU in the period in 2019, compared to 598 MU a year earlier.
  • The 396 MW Pong dam on Beas river generated 173 MU, over 140% more than 73 MU in 2018.
  • 600 MW Ranjit Sagar Dam generated 535 MU in 2019, over 230% more compared to just 160 MU in 2018.
  • Mukerian power units on Beas generated 129 MU, over double of 64 MU in 2018.
  • Anandpur Sahib hydropower units generated 137 MU, about 40% more than 98 MU of 2018.

Unusual, but why ill prepared? This bounty was not very usual. For example, in 2018, the three reservoirs kept depleting its available water till end of June, and it was only in July that the reservoirs started seeing upward trend in water storage. The large water flow into the reservoir this year was mainly due to the heavy snow fall in upper catchments in winter this year and some rains in the pre monsoon period.

But BBMB should have been prepared for this, since it would surely have the information about the snowfall in the catchments of these reservoirs. It is true that there is no publicly available estimate of the snowfall in specific catchments of Sutlej, Beas and Ravi river basins, which is a MAJOR lacunae in India’s water resources management. Unfortunately even IMD does not provide this information. However, one expects that at least BBMB would have estimated this using satellite images, SASE[iii] (Snow and Avalanche Study Establishment of DRDO – Defence Research and Development Organisation) figures and other information. BBMB website of course is completely silent on this issue. The information about higher flows in these rivers is also available several days in advance, considering even the power generation figures of the upstream hydropower projects in respective basins.

The water was released from these dams during summer this year, when no crops are supposed to be grown. Even the relaxed date of Paddy transplantation date this year in Punjab is June 13. This means that some water may have been used for Paddy nursery that may have been sown around May 13, but that takes much smaller amount of water compared to actual Paddy crop. Cotton and some other non paddy may have been sown in some areas, but that may not be in position to use so much water released by the three Indus basin dams in the six weeks from April 25 to June 6 and even earlier.

Reports corroborate News reports quote BBMB officials saying that they had to release water from the dams to reduce the risk of flooding in monsoon. They were possibly referring to the rule curve they need to follow in filling of the reservoirs, but they could have taken advance action and made preparations to ensure that the water is used in the groundwater depleting states of Punjab and Haryana rather allowing it to flow away unutilised. The rule curves of the dams are unfortunately NOT in public domain, so there is no way to ascertain if they were following the rule curve or not.

  • The Tribune reported on June 2, 2019[iv] that water levels in the three dams are 66-91 per cent above normal: “Such high pre-monsoon levels at the fag end of the reservoirs’ depletion period, officials say, have rarely been experienced.” It reported that the dam authorities are “letting go more than the demand from states to cater for inflows that would increase during the monsoon”. It said Bhakra, Pong and Ranjit Sagar dams are filled to 45, 39 and 66% of their capacities.
  • One news report of June 3, 2019[v] said that suddenly so much water was released into Sutlej River that 81 Buffaloes were washed away from Kalitran village in Ropar in Punjab.
  • A report in The Tribune on June 11, 2019[vi] reported: “The discharge of thousands of cusecs of water (14000 cusecs) into Pakistan from the Hussainiwala headworks has ruffled the farming community ahead of the paddy-sowing season… At Bhakra, while the inflow was recorded at 27,298 cusecs on Monday, the outflow was 35,000 cusecs.” The report quoted HS Chahal, Superintendent Engineer (Canals), Ferozepur, saying that water was being released into Pakistan as a preventive measure ahead of the monsoon season to avoid any untoward situation later. It also mentioned reduction in capacity of Hussainiwala headworks “due to presence of hyacinth and encroachment at some places along the Sutlej”. But why no action is taken to address these issues?

Will we learn any lessons? These reports thus confirmed that the Bhakra, Pong and Ranjit Sagar reservoir managers were caught unprepared to use the bounty of water that entered these reservoirs this summer, starting from around March 28, 2019 or earlier. When Punjab is facing such dire water prognosis, the water managers of BBMB, CWC, Union Jal Shakti Ministry and Punjab Govt should have been better prepared to use this bounty of water to help increase recharge, fill up local tanks and make it available to farmers. Some of the water could have also been used to augment the water supply to Delhi, as Delhi also gets Bhakra water. We hope all concerned learn right lessons from this sad episode.


Post Script: Punjab Chief Minister confirmed that Bhakhra-Pong water is being released from Hrike Barrage (Sutlej and Beas Rivers) to Pakistan “to prevent flooding in areas along the Sutlej and the Beas rivers” and “the decision to release excess water in a regulated manner was a “precautionary measure” taken by a technical committee meeting held on May 28, in which all partner states were represented.” The report added: “on an average 8,700 cusecs of water on a daily basis was released downstream of Ferozepur headworks to Pakistan for the past 24 days with regular monitoring of the situation, the chief minister added.” ( This means that in last 24 days, from Ferozepur headworks only, 511 MCM of water has been released to Pakistan, the release continues. The CM did not confirm here how much water has been released from Harike Barrage, but this quantity is likely to be larger than the releases from Ferosepur headworks. The CM did not answer to why the BBMB and Punjab govt were not prepared to use the water for filling up tanks, groundwater recharge, etc when the possibility of this situation existed for so many days.

2. Earlier on June 13, opposition leaders raised questions as why the water is flowing to Pakistan when Punjab Canals are dry: Sukhpal Singh Khaira said it was a matter of record, that there is no water for irrigation in the main canals of Bist Doab canal and Upper Bari Doab Canal catering to the needs of farmers of Doaba and Majha, respectively. “Major canals of Malwa are also either running much lower than their capacity or are completely dry. For example, Eastern canal that has a capacity of 3000 cusec for Ferozpur and Mukatsar districts is totally dry,” the PEP chief said. Sukhpal Singh Khaira said that Golewala minor and other small distributaries in Faridkot besides Ladu Wala minor with 500 cusecs have dried up. Lachman canal along the Pakistan border with 250 cusec capacity is also dry, Boha Rajwaha 250 cusec capacity has no water, Bathinda canal with 2300 cusec capacity is supplying only 250 cusec, Faridkot canal with 600 cusec capacity is also dry. (








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