Late on Friday (Oct 30 ,2020) night the gate no 31 of the Durgapur barrage suffered heavy damage, leading to emptying of the barrage and major disruption of the domestic, industrial and irrigation water supply. Shockingly, the Dam Safety aspects of the 65-year-old barrage on the border of Bankura-W Bardhaman districts of West Bengal[i] on Damodar river is under the World Bank and AIIB funded projects. This episode again[ii] puts a big question mark over credibility of the World Bank’s performance on dam safety issues in India, just a day after the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs headed by the Prime Minister cleared massive Rs 10211 Cr WB funded dam safety project[iii].
The barrage gate damage triggered panic among villagers that it may lead to inundation of a large part of low-lying areas in WestBengal’s WestBurdwan district
A Video of the broken gate:
The barrage gate disaster A media report on Oct 31, 2020[iv] said: “According to state Irrigation Department officials, the lock gate number 31 of Durgapur barrage suffered heavy damages and became nonfunctional; thereby failing to check the flow of water. It resulted in continuous release of huge quantity of gushing water from the barrage… Employees who man the lock gates noticed that the metal lock gate was partially damaged and water was flowing out unchecked.”
The 692 metre-long Durgapur barrage was built on the Damodar River in 1955 by the Damodar Valley Corporation. It has 34 gates (18.3 m × 4.9 m (60 ft × 16 ft)), including 2 under-sluice gates. The irrigation and canal system linked to the barrage was transferred to the Government of West Bengal in 1964. It is a 12-metre high barrage and hence not included in the Central Water Commission’s National Register of Large Dams, being below 15 m in height. Reports say that no repair was started till noon on Oct 31. Water from the barrage is supplied for irrigation, domestic supply, as well as to various big units in the Durgapur-Asansol industrial belt.
Repeat of Nov 2017 mishap Earlier Gate no 1 of the barrage was broken in the night of Nov 23, 2017[v], since then repair of all the gates is going on[vi]. Durgapur city (population 5.22 lakhs in 2011), Durgapur steel plant and all the other industries totally depend on water supply from Durgapur barrage and suffered severe scarcity for several days. A disruption may happen in drinking water distribution in Durgapur and Asansol Municipality for 2-3 days as repair may take at least that much time. Durgapur mayor has promised water supply to all the wards. Authorities have also promised[vii] to repair it by Monday.
West Bengal’s ruling party Trinamool Congress’s Durgapur MLA Pariyal said that work to repair all the gates had been initiated after the accident in 2017. The work, as per Pariyal, was continuing since then.
Durgapur Barrage Dam Safety issues under the WB and AIIB funded projects Durgapur Barrage Dam safety issues are part of the ongoing the World Bank funded “West Bengal Major Irrigation and Flood Management Project” as per the Project Appraisal Document[viii] (Page 13, Para 49), which said: “The Project will carry out structural measures to reduce flooding in the Project area including investments to ensure… implementation of critical dam safety measures recommended by Dam Safety Review Panel for Durgapur barrage.”. It went on to describe the measures for the dam safety including formation of Dam Safety Review Panel for Durgapur barrage, which will periodically inspect the barrage assess its safety, critical dam safety measures suggested by the DSRP are implemented in timely manner, among many others.
It is not clear if the DSRP for the Durgapur barrage has been formed, if they made any inspections, filed reports, made recommendations and if they were implemented. No information in this regard is available on the W Bengal Irrigation and Waterways Department[ix] where a large list of the documents related to WBMIFMP[x] (West Bengal Major Irrigation and Flood Management Project) are provided without any facilitating titles or information.
Similarly, the AIIB (Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank)’s appraisal document of Dec 2019[xi] noted on page 26: “The project will invest in structural measures to reduce the flooding, including selected desilting and construction and rehabilitation of embankments. The project will also support the rehabilitation for the Durgapur Barrage.”
CAG report As CAG report No 9 of 2017[xii] noted, there used to be a harbour pond upstream of the Durgapur barrage, under Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC): “Durgapur barrage was constructed in 1955 on river Damodar to divert the water to irrigation canals and Water Supply Canal (WSC). One harbour pond was also created, upstream of the barrage, to facilitate diversion of water smoothly into the irrigation canals and WSC. The demand of water for M&I uses was also being met from WSC. Audit observed that over several years of operation, the capacity of the harbour pond and WSC was depleted due to siltation. The situation further aggravated after a flash flood in September 2009 when the harbour pond became almost defunct and water was supplied to the WSC directly from barrage pond. This also restricted uninterrupted water supply to the M&I consumers from WSC. The Corporation, however, did not take any effective action to restore the original capacity of WSC and harbour pond by carrying out de-siltation work.” As CAG has noted, the harbour pond and WSC was under the control of DVC, while Durgapur barrage and irrigation canals were under W Bengal irrigation department. It is not clear what are the implications of absence of harbour pond.
Questions This fresh episode of damage to 65-year-old dam whose dam safety issues are covered under the World Bank and AIIB funded projects raise many questions. While it is clear that continuous, confidence inspiring scrutiny of all dams and their structural and operational safety is required, the same is clearly not happening. Secondly, dam safety is essentially a public safety, public interest issue, and those in charge cannot hide behind the curtains of being experts and rest of the people don’t need to know what is going on. Thirdly, the World Bank is happing offering billion dollar projects funding for India, be it for Ganga, waterways or dam safety, since India is possibly its best client and the Bank like any other lender needs to keep rolling the money. But India needs to be much more circumspect, looking at the Bank’s past credibility and sustainability of whatever the Bank achieves while the project is going on. We need major change in the water sector institutions, without which, our challenges in water sector are going to grow faster than climate change impacts.
1. Nov 3 2020:
The West Bengal government is hopeful of repairing the damaged lock gate of the Durgapur Barrage by Nov 4, a senior official said. Cranes have been deployed to pull the broken gate for initiating repair work and an effort to dry the river bed area near the damaged lock gate is on, he said. “If work commences by today evening, it is expected to be completed by tomorrow evening,” Paschim Bardhaman District Magistrate Purnendu Maji said on Nov 3.
2. Around 25 lakh people have been affected with the upper catchment area going dry. Bankura town is also affected by water scarcity. The 2340 MW Mejia Thermal Power Station of DVC in Bankura is running on stored water, which will be exhausted on Nov 3 evening, after which it may be closed down.
3. “After regulating, we can manage to generate 1340 MW at Mejia and 1000 MW (2x500MW) at Andal (in Durgapur Steel Plant) for 3-4 days given the water in their reservoirs,” a DVC official said. The Durgapur Steel Thermal Power Station (Andal plant) requires 90,000 cubic metres of water from the Damodar river per day.
4. But the area is not dry. Irrigation officials said the Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC) stopped releasing water from its two dams in Maithan and Panchet in Jharkhand but rivulets linked to Damodar in Asansol and Bankura were posing a challenge. “Natural rivers cannot be stopped and we are trying to set up a temporary barricade cordoning off the damaged gate with the help of sand bags and mud on the river bed,” the engineer said.
– Five earthmovers and over 100 labourers were put on the job. Engineers from SAIL’s Durgapur Steel Plant also joined the effort with irrigation department engineers. “We will start restoration (work) once we manage to make the gate area dry. Once it starts it will require at least 15 hours,” said Sanjay Singh, chief engineer of the irrigation department.
– An irrigation department official blamed lack of maintenance for the damaged gate. The official said subsequent state governments did not overhaul the iron sluice gates ever since the DVC had handed the facility over to the state administration in 1965. A source in the irrigation department said heavy siltation at Durgapur Barrage lowered its capacity to hold more water released from dams. He said silt and stored water combined to create huge pressure on the gates, weakening them. Prakash on Sunday had also said the government would replace 11 gates of the 34 gates and repair the rest, but the process would take time.
5. Nov 4 2020: The delay in repairing the damaged sluice gate of Damodar Barrage caused the state-run Durgapur Projects Limited (DPL) to shut down power generation from Nov 2, 2020 morning over insufficient water supply, triggering power cuts in the town reeling from water crisis ever since the bent gate was spotted on Saturday. Officials of the power utility said they had exhausted its stored water on Tuesday and had to shut down the 300MW seventh unit, the last functioning unit, said Swagata Mitra, a DPL spokesperson.
6. The last ditch of attempt of erecting the Stype barricade of sandbags further collapsed at finishing point at 4:40 pm on Nov 4.
– Khudia, a lesser known rivulet acting silently as a tributary of the Damodar in Jharkhand border, has actually been stifling state Irrigation department’s efforts of erecting consecutive crossbars along the affected Durgapur barrage lockgate zone precinct since Nov 2 since the continued flow of 1,200 cusecs along the troubled precinct could not be arrested in four days.
7. Work to restore the damaged gate at Durgapur Barrage on Damodar river started around 2pm on Nov 4 after 100 hours went into trying to drain the riverbed.
– “Using only sandbags to stop the flow in the Damodar when monsoon has ended late was poor judgement. Along with sandbags, they should have used iron sheets for the job,” said an engineer. He added that pumps should have been used simultaneously while setting up the barricade. “That could have also saved time,” he added.
8. Some politicians said the connivance of a section of irrigation officials with the sand mafia had led to the incident.
– “A section of irrigation employees, who operate the sluice gates, are hand in glove with the sand mafia. They lift the gates to let sand from the upper catchment area flow to the lower catchment. The gate that got damaged is usually lifted only in case of an emergency. The government should come clean on what led to the lifting of gate no. 31 and its subsequent damage,” said Pankaj Roy Sarkar, CPM West Burdwan district secretariat member. He said in 2017, gate no. 1 had been damaged. “It is intriguing why only gates at the two ends get damaged,” Roy Sarkar said. “The government had ordered an inquiry after we raised the issue of corrupt practices in 2017, but we do not know the outcome of the probe,” he added. Local irrigation officials, however, refuted the charges of corruption levelled against them. “Twisting of the gate is a technical issue and happened because of lack of maintenance,” said an engineer of the irrigation department.
9. Nov 5 2020: Work to restore the damaged sluice gate no. 31 of the Durgapur Barrage ended on Thursday (Nov 5, 2020) evening after a 30-hour effort and irrigation department officials said water from Damodar Valley Corporation’s Maithan and Panchet dams was expected to reach the barrage later in the night. The government had requested the DVC to release water from its Maithan and Panchet dams from 6am on Thursday. It takes over 12 hours for water to reach Durgapur Barrage from these two dams in Jharkhand. “We fixed the damage and sealed the gaps in the gate with iron sheets. We added more iron sheets to the old gate to strengthen it,” said an engineer of the irrigation department. The engineers said as the gate had been sealed it would not be operational till the government decides otherwise during the proposed overhauling of the sluice gates, the date for which has not been decided upon. “We have released around 9,000 cusec of water from our two dams in Maithan and Panchet since Thursday morning,” said a DVC official.
10. Water supply from the Durgapur barrage was restarted on Nov 7, 2020 morning after repair of the damaged barrage gate. The water supply remained shut for over seven days.
11. Nov 11, 2020: Durgapur Civic body engineers said the feeder canal from which they supply water to their treatment plants is 8.5km long and 3m deep but silt deposit has shrunk its capacity to almost half. “If we can increase the depth of the canal, it can hold more water and we could maintain normal water supply to our plants for at least five to six days if a crisis occurs,” said Chatterjee. “We supplied water in tankers from 11 deep tube wells that we set up after the 2017 incident but that is not enough for a crisis of such magnitude,” he said.
– Engineers at the water supply department of the civic body said they pay an yearly fee of Rs 12 crore to the Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC) as maintenance and water charges. “The DVC a few months ago carried out partial desiltation but that is not sufficient,” said the engineer. The civic body supplies around 20 million gallons per day of water to the town for domestic and commercial use. Civic authorities have started exploring other options for water, instead of depending on Damodar alone, like the Ajay river on West Burdwan-Birbhum border.
12. Nov 12, 2020 All the stakeholders who are depended on Durgapur Barrage for supply of water have been asked to “sincerely” consider creating respective infrastructure to store water for at least 15 days so that timely maintenance work of the barrage can be undertaken every year by turning it completely dry. The maintenance work at least once a year by turning the barrage dry is needed to avoid repetition of similar incidents like damage of gate number 31 two weeks ago and gate number 1 in 2017. On Tuesday senior officers of the state Irrigation and Waterways department, which carries out maintenance of the barrage, raised the issue during the virtual meeting with top brass of all the stakeholders including Durgapur Municipal Corporation, Durgapur Steel Plant, Mejia Thermal Power Plant, the state Power department, the state Public Health Engineering department and Urban Development and Municipal Affairs department.
[ii] For details related to earlier such instance: https://sandrp.files.wordpress.com/2018/03/jaswant_sagar_dam_breach_aug07.pdf
[vii] https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kolkata/barrage-breach-fuels-fears-of-water-crisis-in-durgapur/articleshow/78976301.cms, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/videos/city/kolkata/watch-partially-damaged-durgapur-barrage-release-huge-quantity-of-water-in-west-bengal/videoshow/78974433.cms