Its not everyday that Government of India’s National Crisis Management Committee (NCMC) meets. It’s even rarer when the NCMC meets to deal with issues related to a dam. And that too on a Sunday.
The National Crisis So when on Sunday, Sept 15, 2019, the Cabinet Secretary chaired the NCMC meeting[i] to discuss the issues surrounding the Gandhi Sagar Dam on Chambal river in Madhya Pradesh (close to Rajasthan border) and called it a National Crisis, it signified how serious was the situation.
The PIB press release after the NCMC meeting that day did not say this, but as media reported[ii], NCMC “decided to send an expert panel to the Gandhi Sagar dam after the Central Water Commission (CWC) declared its overtopping a “great crisis”… The committee has dispatched an expert panel to Mandsaur on Monday to prepare a report on the crisis that has raised alarms of overtopping along the Chambal and Yamuna rivers. The expert panel will conduct a post-flood analysis of the dam’s behaviour and review its performance on the release of excess water since Saturday (Sept 14, 2019). The CWC declared a crisis at India’s third largest reservoir on Saturday when heavy rains in Madhya Pradesh caused an inflow of 16 lakh cubic foot per second (cusecs or 45000 Cubic meters per second or cumecs) and outflow of 5 lakh cusec (14000 cumecs) of water. This led to overtopping in other dams in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.” “The effect of around 45,000 cumec overflow from Gandhi Sagar dam may be seen all along the Ganga, from Allahabad to Patna,” the CWC said.
The CWC would never tell this to NCMC, but let us see how this is a completely avoidable, man made crisis in which CWC too has its share of responsibility.
CWC Tweets warn of “great crisis” The previous night, just after 11 pm, CWC flood forecasting division had tweeted[iii]: “As informed by Mr Bharat Gosavi, CE Dam Safety minutes back, Gandhisagar dam, MP is in great crisis, inflow 16 lakh cusec & outflow 5.0 lakh cusec, dam already full, going for some big overtopping, all disaster management agencies must be activated accordingly.” This was followed by more tweets: “Downstream of Gandhisagar Dam is Rana Pratap Sagar (RPS) Dam in Rawatbhata area in Chittorgarh District. It was getting an inflow of around 16,000 cumec. This may suddenly increase leading to overtopping from this dam also… Similarly, Jawagar Sagar Dam downstream of RPS Dam may also overtop as this dam is also very near FRL. Kota Barrage is releasing around 17,000 cumec, may also record huge increase in flow which may result in Extreme Flood Situation in Kota City in Kota District of Rajasthan… Since Kalisindh Dam on river Kalisindh is also releasing around 16,000 cumecs, the combined effect of the discharge of Kota Barrage and Kalisindh river will be felt in the downstream reaches at Mandawara in Kota District, Pali in Sawai Madhopur District, Dholpur (site) in Dholpur.”
Around 3 pm on Sept 15, 2019, CWC released a video on twitter[iv] and said: “Gandhisagar dam is overflowing. water is being discharged from 5 emergency gates on footover bridge”. The water level remained above FRL (Full Reservoir Level) of 399.9 m and above MWL (Maximum Water Level) of 401 m for at least 24 hours from 8 am on Sept 15 to 8 am on Sept 16, 2019. It is likely to have gone above 401 m much before 8 am on Sept 15, as shown by CWC hydrograph, since the water level was already at 401.99 m at 0830 am on Sept 15, 2019.
Why was Gandhi Sagar Dam full in middle of vigorous monsoon? A major reason for the crisis was that Gandhi Sagar dam, country’s fourth largest capacity reservoir in terms of live storage[v], was already full even when the monsoon was so vigorously active in Western Madhya Pradesh. In fact, the dam was 82% full on Aug 22, 91% full a week latter on Aug 29, 93% on Sept 5, 94% on Sept 10, 97% by Sept 12 and over 100% by Sept 15 when crisis struck.
Going by MP government’s Water Resources website, ALL the gates of the dam remained closed till Aug 27, 2019, when for the first time this season, five gates of the Gandhi Sagar Dam were opened. As a matter of fact, the dam gates were being opened for the first time since Sept 2016, according to MP WRD website.
Filling up the dam and not releasing water earlier was an invitation to disaster, particularly when the monsoon has been consistently vigorous in western Madhya Pradesh. Even on 12th Sept, for about 12 hours, only one gate was open, releasing just 553 cumecs.
Between 27th Aug when dam gates were opened for the first time this year and Sept 12, most of the time five or less number of gates were open. It was only on 13th & 14th Sept that 12-19 gates[vi] were opened and for the first time 10650 cumecs water was released, but that was possibly too late. Even on those two days, the dam was releasing at just 50% of its design spillway capacity of 21238 cumecs. It was only on 15th Sept, after the dam was already overtopped that outflow was increased to 14557 cumecs and then to 18407 cumecs on 16th Sept. Going by MP WRD’s website, at no stage did the dam release as per its design spillway capacity of 21238 cumecs.
That raises question as to why was the dam, commissioned in 1960, not able to release at its design spillway capacity, even as it faced the “great crisis” when the dam was overtopped.
Why did Gandhi Sagar not generate hydropower? The Gandhi Sagar Dam has a 115 MW hydropower station comprising of five units of 23 MW each. This power station did not produce any power at all from June 18, 2019 when monsoon was about to set in to Aug 26, 2019. During the whole of monsoon, it generated power for the first time only on Aug 27, 2019 as per National Power Portal[vii]. It’s a mystery why was no power generated at this project, even as the dam as 90% full? Was it part of the water hoarding policy, to store the water to full capacity and then only start releasing water? In any case, this further accentuated the problem at Gandhi Sagar. Even between Aug 27 when Gandhi Sagar Power station started generating power and Sept 14, in 18 days it generated 27.54 Million Units (MU) when it could have generated almost double that amount.
Rana Pratap Sagar Dam Downstream of Gandhi Sagar Dam is the Rana Pratap Sagar (RPS) Dam on Chambal River in Rajasthan, with FRL of 352.81 m, live storage capacity of 1.436 BCM and hydropower capacity of 172 MW. That dam too was 90% full on Aug 21, 95% full on Aug 29, 98% full on Sept 5 and 100% full on Sept 12. To fill up the dam while the monsoon is far from over and is vigorous was clearly a major blunder. The project, like Gandhi Sagar, did not produce ANY power from its 172 MW capacity till Aug 27, 2019, again shows the tendency to hoard the water. They could have easily used the water for power generation and downstream use, which would have not only been productive, but also would have created space in the reservoir, which would have in turn helped to absorb some of the flood water and also reducing downstream damage. The water level in the dam crossed FRL at 7 pm on Sept 14, and reached 353.35 m by 3 pm on Sept 15, it is not clear when it the water level come down back to FRL or lower. Similarly, the downstream Jawant Sagar Dam crossed the FRL of 298.7 m at 5 pm on Sept 15.
Rainfall There is no doubt that the monsoon has been vigorous in Western Madhya Pradesh where most of the catchment of Gandhi Sagar Dam is. Chambal basin as a whole, as per India Meteorological Department, had 1149 mm or 71% above normal rainfall till Sept 23, 2019. During the week Sept 12-18, the basin had 126.1 mm or 512% above normal rainfall, which is significant. Some of the Gandhi Sagar districts had some really high rainfall during Sept 14-15: Mandsaur: 123.1 mm (14th, 4296% above normal) and 138.7 mm (15th, 2723%); Neemuch: 85.7 mm (2868%) & 124.7 mm (3625%); Ujjain: 95.3 mm (14th); Ratlam: 106.3 mm (14th).
These are high rainfall figures, but there were prior warnings from IMD and Skymet about such high rainfall. The project authorities should have started releasing water much earlier so that such massive crisis would not have happened.
Floods There were other warnings of the impending floods. The Mandawara site along Chambal river in Kota district, downstream of Kota City crossed HFL of 217.685 m at 12 noon on Sept 13, and reached new HFL of 225.55 m, which is almost eight meters above the previous HFL. This is massive jump for HFL anywhere.
The water level at Dholpur site further downstream along the Chambal started rising on 13th Sept and reached a peak only on 17th Sept.
The Salavad site along Kali Sindh river in the same Chambal basin crossed its Highest Flood Level (HFL) at 10 am on Sept 14 and remained above HFL for over 24 hours, reaching new high which is more than 1 m above the previous HFL.
Upstream of Gandhi Sagar, the site at Tal along Chambal had reached its peak around 12 noon on Sept 14, 2019, see the hydrograph below.
In Conclusion These are just some indications of the massive floods that resulted due to the National crisis at Gandhi Sagar Dam and in which the mismanagement of dams played a big role. They clearly violated rule curve and failed to take advance action to avoid the crisis. Unfortunately, the team that was sent by NCMC was full of only CWC officials, and CWC is neither going to indict the dam operators, nor admit the role of mismanagement of dams or violation of the rule curve. Moreover, there is also conflict of interest involved as CWC itself approves the rule curves, monitors reservoir operations and provides guidance, and forecasts floods. But it has no flood level forecasting station in the Chambal basin, only flood monitoring stations and some inflow forecasting sites. Gandhi Sagar is included in CWC’s inflow forecasting site, but CWC seems to have clearly not been able to provide accurate forecasts or guidance. In any case, NCMC should think of sending independent team in future on such occasions.
CWC and our dam operators are clearly not ready for the changing rainfall pattern that dams are experiencing. The rule curves of the dams need to change. Most importantly, concerned persons from CWC and dam operators need to be held accountable for the wrong operation of dams.
Compiled by SANDRP (firstname.lastname@example.org)
[v] Indira Sagar in MP is the largest with 9.745 BCM live storage capacity, Srisailam has 8.288 BCM and Nagarjun Sagar 6.841 BCM.
[vi] The Gandhi Sagar dam has total of 19 gates, including 10 spillway gates of size 60 feet by 28 feet and 9 sluice gates of size 10 feet by 25 feet. According to CWC video twitted on Sept 15, it possibly also has five fates in foot over bridge.
[vii] https://npp.gov.in/public-reports/cea/daily/dgr/27-08-2019/dgr2-2019-08-27.pdf and same for earlier dates.