We showed on Sept 2, 2020[i] using official information that Sardar Sarovar Dam (SSD) created an avoidable flood disaster in Bharuch, downstream of SSD starting on Aug 29, 2020, due to sudden, adhoc release of massive quantities water upto 10.72 lakh cusecs. The Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited (SSNNL), official agency responsible for operation of the SSD is yet to provide any clear, coherent and fact based response. However, some of the spokespersons of SSNNL/ Government of Gujarat (GOG) are claiming that scientific operation of SSD saved Bharuch from bigger disaster. While this claim has no basis, this is like spraying salt on the fresh wounds.
Only an independent (not by serving or retired bureaucrats of the government) investigation would be able to bring out the truth as to how SSD operated, how it should have been operated, who is responsible for the massive disaster that Bharuch experienced, how can we fix accountability and what lessons we can learn for future.
Why is SSNNL afraid of the truth coming out? It is shocking that so far SSNNL has not even come out with an explanation about the disaster. On Sept 4, 2020 afternoon, we got an email from one Shri Laxmikant S Sharma, one of the four co authors of the note titled: “Systematic operation of Sardar Sarovar reservoir helps avert severe flood in Bharuch”. It was one among many opinions I got in response to my analysis of the SSD leading to flood disaster in Bharuch. My response to Laxmikant ji was: “Thanks for sharing this. At this stage my only response is that there is a lot that can be said in reply to what you have said, but its better to wait for the official (SSNNL) response. One only wishes we can see evidence of humane & just treatment to the Gujaratis staying downstream of SSD and to Narmada river and related eco-system downstream of the dam. We do not see any today.”
On Sept 4 evening, SSNNL’s official twitter handle twitted, tagging PMOIndia, CMOGujarat, Dr Rajiv Kumar Gupta (SSNNL CMD) and CWC FF: “An independent analysis by 4Experts shows how the systematic operation of Sardar Sarovar Dam averted severe flood in Bharuch. Describing Narmada Basin as a classic example of integrated operation of reservoirs, Proves critiques wrong who expressed this operation an avoidable disaster”.
SANDRP response was twitted the same day, tagging all the above: “Why is SSNNL firing frm shoulders of rtrd bureaucrats & not coming out with official response. One wishes SSNNL is more Humane towards Gujaratis staying dwnstrm of SSD who hve suffered so immensely, which was totally avoidable. We see no evidence of attempt to reduce their misery”.
SSNNL has not responded thereafter.
On Sept 5 night, on what seemed liked SSNNL letter-head, a two page statement in Gujarati and English was being circulated, referring to the opinion of the four former bureaucrats. Seeing that the statement had no name, no sign, no date, it did not seem worthwhile attaching any credit to it. Particularly since neither SSNNL’s official website (https://www.sardarsarovardam.org/), nor its twitter handle had carried these.
From all this it appears that SSNNL is somehow afraid of the truth coming out.
Opinion of Four Retired Bureaucrats Let us quickly review the 4-page note containing the opinion of the four former Gujarat government officials. Firstly, it was shocking to see that SSNNL in its twit given above, stated that it is independent analysis by four experts. It is clearly neither independent, nor much of an analysis and surely, nothing is known how they are experts in dam operations & related subjects. This itself possibly shows that SSNNL is trying to defend the indefensible and has no clue how to respond. The 4-page note rather liberally uses impressive but empty phrases: “state of the art technology”, “scientific analysis”, “coordinated operation”, “stochastic hydrological analysis, are nothing but sound engineering principles and practices for operating spillway gates of any major dam”, “safely negotiated through scientifically carried out flood routing”. It does not provide any reference or support for any of its claims or even facts and figures. That says a lot about the quality of that note.
The note begins by saying that “Entire stretch of river Narmada from Amarkantak to Sardar Sarovar Project (1163 km) was subjected to heavy rains during last one fortnight” (Aug 16-Aug 31, 2020). That is too clever a claim, since it immediately raises question, why did the SSNNL wake up only on 28th Aug night if the rainfall was falling since Aug 16? That in fact supports exactly what I said in my note that SSNNL needed to start releasing the water much in advance that the night of Aug 28.
The authors of the note than should have gone into details of the daily rainfall that we described, but they knew that won’t help.
In fact, even on Aug 21-22, Narmada basin received very high rainfall, as is apparent from IMD’s daily district wise rainfall figures for 48 hours ending at 0830 hours on Aug 23, 2020: Indore: 273.2 mm, Sehore: 237.6 mm, Khandwa: 224.7 mm, Raisen: 147.8 mm, Dhar: 134.4 mm; Hoshangabad: 122.3 mm, Harda: 112.8 mm. This bout of rainfall in fact was sufficient trigger for the SSP gates opening to start on Aug 21-22, that would have provided sufficient time for the SSNNL to keep releasing around 3 lakh cusecs of water for the next two weeks. This would have then not only averted the flood disaster in Bharuch, the water would have been useful for people, river, eco system and even power generation (more about that below).
That bout of rainfall in fact lead to sudden rise of inflows into SSP on Aug 22, 2020 as the following hydrograph from CWC shows.
This led to, as NCA daily bulletins show[ii], inflows to SSP over six fold jumping from 832 cumecs (Cubic Meters per second) on Aug 22 to 5311 cumecs on Aug 24, dropping somewhat to 2576 cumecs on Aug 27. Yet another piece of actionable information (both CWC hydrograph shown above and NCA bulletins) that required that SSNNL open the gates starting Aug 22.
Just prior to that, on Aug 19, due to an earlier bout of heavy rains in upper Narmada basin lead to peak inflow into Bargi dam, and the dam reached FRL as following hydrograph shows.
This was due to heavy three-day rainfall in upper Narmada basin, as reported by IMD, the three days (Aug 16-17-18) ending at 0830 hours on Aug 19: Mandla: 140.9 mm; Jabalpur: 125 mm; Dindori: 122.6 mm; Balaghat: 115.5 mm and Katni: 93.9 mm. This was yet another actionable information warning for SSNNL to start full power generation from SSP from Aug 16 along with gradual opening of spillway gates.
It is clear that the 4 retired officials of Gujarat government officials have not done basic homework.
They next claim that due the heavy rainfall, big dams in Narmada Valley in upstream Madhya Pradesh, like Indira Sagar, Omkaershwar, Bargi, Tawa etc got filled up. Yes they are right. In fact, as we noted earlier, Bargi was full by around Aug 19. CWC’s Reservoir Bulletin of Aug 27, 2020 says[iii]: Tawa is 95% full, Bargi is 93% full, Indira Sagar is 92% full, Barna is 90%. In fact, this bulletin only shows that SSNNL should have started operating the SSP power stations and also opening up spillway gates much earlier.
The note by the four officials includes some shockingly insensitive statements: “Keeping in view the safety of the people in Bharuch City and about 30 villages on the banks of Narmada” and “sardar sarovar Dam has saved around 30,000 hectare of downstream area from the adverse hit of flood damages” and “allowing the people in the downstream areas to share their experience of having a great sigh of relief this year amidst very heavy rainfall in the Narmada basin”. This is deeply painful and saddening. In stead of expressing sympathies and sorrow for the harrowing four days that the lakhs of Bharuch people spent, they make their pain worse by making such claims, that are just that, since they completely fail to provide any support for it.
SSNNL drained away Rs 85 Crore? One of the ways SSNNL could have put the SSD water to productive use in stead of draining it from the spillways would have been by generating power by operating the 1200 MW River Bed Power House (RBPH) and 250 MW Canal Head Power House (CHPH) at full capacity over longer period. A perusal of the Narmada Control Authority’s “Daily Status Reports”[iv] and “Daily Plant Report of SSP Power Houses”[v], tells us that till Aug 25, RBPH was generating ZERO power since July 14 and even CHPH generated no power even on Aug 25 and just 0.509 MU (Million Units), operating just one of the five 50 MW unites for 11 out of 24 hours on Aug 26. It was only by Sept 3, that both RBPH and CHPH started operating at full capacity. If SSNNL had started generating full power even from Aug 21 (in consultation with NCA and beneficiary states of MP and Maharashtra, they would not have said no to additional power that is rightfully theirs), SSP could have generated additional 283.85 MU in additional ten days, which would have meant additional value generation of Rs 85 crores, assuming price of Rs 3 per unit of power. But for some strange, unknown reasons, SSNNL did not use the water productively, which would have also helped a step towards avoiding flood disaster in Bharuch.
Why did the SSP power units take over seven days to reach full load? The first unit of RBPH was started at 14.45 hours on Aug 26, as per NCA daily updates dated Aug 27, 2020. Thereafter slowly other units were started. All six RBPH units started operating for the first time at 0120 hrs on Aug 30, as per the Power station NCA update of Aug 31, 2020, however, the units were still not operating at full load. The units were operating around 160 MW load against its 200 MW capacity on Aug 30, Aug 31, Sept 1 (164 MW), Sept 2 (196 MW). It was only on Sept 4 when all six RBPH units were for the first time operating at or above 200 MW rated capacity, when the RBPH generation reached 28.538 MU as per NCA power plant update dates Sept 5, 2020. On Sept 4, 2020, the RBPH discharge also reached a peak of 1199 cumecs as reported by NCA Daily Status report of Sept 5, 2020. CHPH power generation reached a peak of 3.902 MU on Sept 1, and its discharge of 437.8 cumecs was also maximum during that period.
The big mystery is why did SSP power units took so many hours and days to reach peak load? Even the 4 retired official’s note says: “In fact, Operation of River Bed Power House was started on 26.08.2020 and gradually stepped upto operation of all 6 turbines at I0.00 hours on 30.08.2020.” This is clearly wrong in many details, as usual, but agrees that RBPH took five days to start all six units (full load is different matter). It should have taken no longer than an hour to ramp up all the units of SSP power houses. The delay of so many days not only meant lower power generation, but also additional floods in downstream areas.
Let us take note of the celebrated event of April 5, 2020 when this prowess of quick ramping down and up of hydropower projects was successfully show cased at national level. On April 5, 2020, when following Prime Minister’s call for 9 minutes lights off at 9 pm, the sudden drop in power demand was 31 089 MW and that ramping down of generation within minutes could be possible due to hydropower projects, as media reported quoting Union Power Minister, among others. The demand then jumped by 28 001 MW in next one hour. Both this ramping down and up, within minutes was possibly due to hydropower projects.
So the mystery of slow ramping of SSP power units remains unresolved.
Dimensions of the flood disaster still unfolding While there are no indications if the Gujarat government has started assessment of the damage due to the Bharuch flood disaster, new dimensions of the disaster are still unfolding. One of the latest dimensions has been the massive soil erosion from the lands on the banks of Narmada and its tributaries. Another is the loss to the fisherfolks in the Narmada estuary. Many more dimensions are likely to emerge in the days to come.
Need for independent investigation into the Bharuch Flood Disaster There is no doubt that Bharuch experienced massive flood disaster during Aug 29-Sept 2, 2020, there was almost no local rain during that period, the flood disaster happened entirely due to the sudden release of massive quantities of water from SSD. No one is disputing these facts. The unresolved question is could SSD have been operated differently, based on available information in public domain, that may have helped avoid or hugely reduce the flood disaster in Bharuch? If we do not find convincing, truthful answer that question (& all its sub questions), fix accountability for the SSD operation and learn lessons for future, and in stead go by the claims of SSNNL, the party that is responsible for the disaster, we would be only inviting greater disasters in future.
Himanshu Thakkar (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Gujarati translation: https://tinyurl.com/y5cmsw76
1. Sept 11 2020: I am not sure how true is the picture presented here. I seriously doubt if NCA has any say in operation of SSP gates during floods.
[ii] http://nca.gov.in/dsr/dsr-aug-20/dsr-22-aug-2020.pdf, http://nca.gov.in/dsr/dsr-aug-20/dsr-23-aug-2020.pdf, http://nca.gov.in/dsr/dsr-aug-20/dsr-24-aug-2020.pdf, http://nca.gov.in/dsr/dsr-aug-20/dsr-27-aug-2020.pdf