That big dams are dangerous, disaster prone is well known, the parliament having passed the Dam Safety Act is just one of the clear evidence of it. However, are big dams becoming even MORE dangerous in changing climate? All the science and also practical evidence seems to suggest that. This is also what the SCROLL report mentioned below concludes.
What is shocking is that the CWC (Central Water Commission), India’s premier technical body on dams and water, when asked about this through an RTI, is in slumber. CWC told the journalist that there are no such cases! This should be worrying for everyone concerned including those in the risk zone of the dams, the beneficiaries of the dams and also the dam operators. This also exposes how weak is the mechanism set up by the Dam Safety Act passed recently by the Parliament is. This is because under the act, CWC Is the main organisation responsible dam safety in India. Can CWC really save us from unsafe dams, structurally unsafe or operationally unsafe? The SCROLL article illustrates through the example of Andhra Pradesh dams that CWC has not. It also quotes the compilation of SANDRP where to the frequency of disasters are only going up and there is again no confidence inspiring role from CWC.
In a fantastic story, Shivani Azad of The Times of India has reported possibly the most remarkable story of the Chamoli avalanche disaster that started on Sunday morning on Feb 7, 2021. She reported that Vipul Kairuni of Dhaak village in Tapovan, working at the time at the now destroyed Tapovan Vishnugad project, got saved thanks to frantic calls by his mother Mangshri Devi as she and his wife saw from their village home, situated at a height from the river, that a massive flood is approaching the dam site. It was thanks to frantic, repeated calls by Mangshri Devi that not only Vipul, but at least two dozen more people could run to safety of a ladder and saved their lives.
So effectively, Mangshri Devi has saved at least two dozen lives in Chamoli disaster. Who else can claim to have achieved anything like that in the disaster? The disaster management department seems completely absent from the scene either in terms of pre disaster monitoring or in taking steps to save lives during the disaster. In fact, there should have been an early warning system in place that could have saved many more lives. But it does not exist. Either in Rishiganga/ Dhauliganga basin or anywhere else in Uttarakhand. NTPC’s Tapovan Vishnugad Project has faced so many disasters already since 2008, but is only now talking about putting in place early warning system. Should not the NTPC and power ministry top brass as well as Uttarakhand disaster management department held accountable for that?
NITI Aayog, we learn, has started studies of implications of the Supreme Court and NGT orders on environment issues. In the context of the massive Chamoli disaster now unfolding in Uttarakhand, NITI needs to urgently institute an inquiry as to who all are responsible for overturning the Justice Radhakrishnan led verdict of Aug 13, 2013 about the June 2013 Uttarakhand disaster and role of hydropower projects in the disaster and the costs of overturning that verdict. In fact if the Justice Radhakrishnan verdict were to have been sincerely and honestly implemented to its logical conclusion, the proportions of the current Chamoli disaster and others would have been majorly reduced. So the costs are no doubt huge and mounting. Will NITI Aayog institute such an independent inquiry urgently?
This report provides and overview of key developments in Nepal about Dams, Rivers, Environment and people in 2020, we had provided similar overview in 2019[i] too. We have divided the overview into these sections: Hydropower projects, Power Trade, Governance, River Sand Mining, Monsoon 2020 dominated by Landslide news, Climate Change, India-Nepal issues dominated by Pancheshwar and border dispute issues, Nepal China issues.
In SANDRP’s weekly News Bulletins, we select lead story each week. Here we try to look back and take stock of major happenings of 2020 through a compilation of DRP lead stories to recapitulate major happenings related Dams, Rivers, Water and Environment. While doing this we are aware that this may not completely capture all the key happenings in this sector, since not all the major developments are captured by the media and their headlines. However, it does provide some idea about what were the major developments in this sector in the just outgoing year 2020. We have divided the lead stories under several key classifications like River Management, Environment Governance, Dams, Hydropower projects, Flood management, groundwater management etc.
A good cartoon can say a lot more than words and possibly more effectively. As in 2019[i], we are sharing the key events on the issues that we focus on namely Dams, Rivers, Environment and People using cartoons. As you can see, we have sourced them from the various internet sources during the just concluding year 2020.
As I write this, around 1000 people are on a hunger strike in a small village on the banks of Narmada river in Badwani District, one of the most fertile and culturally rich part of Madhya Pradesh. The hunger strike which started with 5 women and leader of Narmada Bachao Andolan, Medha Patkar is now in its 6th day on Aug 31, 2019. Continue reading “Photoblog: Rivers for Life: Narmada Rally at Badvani, July 2019”→
Further speaking to various regional media, Madhav Gadgil has said that irresponsible environmental policy is to blame for the recent floods and landslides in Kerala. He also called it a “manmade calamity”. He said that the committee report had recommended to protect the resources with the cooperation of local self-govt and people, but those recommendations were rejected.
Dams should never be filled before the end of the monsoons. Because then one doesn’t have any solution but to release the water in the surrounding areas: Himanshu Thakkar, SANDRP says as one of panellist discussing role of dams in aggravating Kerala floods.
Here is admission about sudden, excessive releases and not foreseeing the coming disaster. The Kerala crisis could have been contained had the state “gradually released” waters from at least 30 dams, officials said, adding that the local authorities failed to foresee the imminent danger with high rain prediction. “Such floods have probably recurred after 100 years, exposing the state’s unprofessionally run reservoir management system and unpreparedness on disaster mitigation and disaster resilience, an official pointed out. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kochi/gradual-dam-water-release-could-have-contained-crisis/articleshow/65436339.cms (17 Aug. 2018)
The various aspects of tragic Dam Disaster in Mekong Basin in Laos are still unfolding. But it is clear from many accounts that it was an avoidable, man-made disaster due to neglect of contractors, decision makers, consultants and supervising agencies. There is a lot we can learn from this if we want to avoid such disasters in India. We still do not have credible Dam Safety Law or institution, CWC is clearly not the right agency considering the conflict of interest with the various other roles of CWC. But for now let us look at the reports of Laos Dam Disaster.
Reminding the world of one of the worst dam disasters, the under construction dam Xepian Xe Nam Noy Hydro power project breached releasing 5 billion cubic metres of water in Southern Laos on July 23.
The gushing water current swept the surrounding leading to death of about 26 people and displacing about 6600 residents. As per report hundreds of people are still missing from neighbouring villages of Yai Thae, Hinlad, Mai, Thasengchan, Tha Hin, and Samong, which bore the brunt of flooding. The deluge has reportedly destroyed thousands of homes.
Govt and media typically report the status of water storage in India using the CWC’s Weekly Reservoir Storage Bulletin, which contain information about just 91 reservoirs in India. In this article we show that the state websites provide information about huge 3863 reservoirs, which even if not sufficient, is a huge improvement over just 91 reservoirs that CWC bulletin includes. We hope all concerned will try to improve the reservoir storage reporting.
It should be added here that this measures only surface water stored in some of the large reservoirs of India. This excludes large number of big reservoirs, lakhs of smaller reservoirs, groundwater aquifers and soil moisture storage. In spite of these limitations, this provides more accurate picture than just the 91 reservoirs of CWC that everyone in India, including media, govt monitoring and policy makers look at.