The release of around 1.31 lakh cusecs of water in Yamuna from Hathnikund barrage at 09:00 hours on July 26, 2018, was certainly first surge of flood this monsoon in the river. But no one expected, most are still in the dark that the release would multiply by over five times in just two days! It is almost a month after the Southwest monsoon arrived. By this time the river usually floods couples of times.
Looking at the lack of significant rainfall in the catchment area over past weeks, the flood is unexpected and has taken many by surprise. The Irrigation and Flood Control Department, Delhi Government has issued warning for flood plain farmers and human settlements close to river banks, but the warning does not seem to commensurate with the flood peak that is likely to hit the capital in next day or two.
Yamuna has already crossed warning (204 m) and danger level (204.83) at Old Delhi Railway Bridge (ORB), Delhi. The High Flood Level is 207.49 meters, reached on Sept 6,1978 after around 7 lakh cusecs (cubic feet per second) water was released in Yamuna on 3rd Sept 1978 at 04:00 hrs from Tajewala barrage, that was decommissioned and replaced by Hathnikund barrage in early 1990s. The flood monitoring of River Yamuna began in 1963.
Since then, the river has seen high floods in 1988, 1995, 2010 and 2013. The 2010 and 2013 floods also crossed 207 metres mark but fell short of 1978 level.
In its latest report, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has questioned implementation of sixteen National Irrigation Projects. Before this, the CAG has held mismanagement in dams’ operation responsible for Chennai floods in 2015. Both these reports are available on its website now.
The CAG report on National Irrigation Projects, tabled in Parliament on July 20, has revealed that sixteen major multi-purpose water projects, taken up on an expeditious basis about a decade ago, are nowhere near completion, with no work being undertaken in as many as 11 projects despite the incumbent govt’s much-wanted focus on improving irrigation facilities in the country.
The report also mentioned that out of the 16 projects, undertaken under the Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Programme (AIBP) in Feb 2008, only five projects with estimated irrigation potential of 25.10 lakh hectares were under implementation and even these projects suffer from 8 to 99 per cent shortfall in physical progress, the CAG said. The remaining 11 projects with estimated irrigation potential of 10.48 lakh hectares are yet to commence and are at different stages of approval.
In a recent article Ashwin B Pandya, Former, Chairman Central Water Commission (CWC) refuses to acknowledge either the adverse impacts of dams or the better option of using groundwater aquifer for storing water. And thus making unscientific arguments against dam decommissioning and for dams. No one is talking of removal ALL dams as the author seems to postulate and then dismiss it as impossible and irresponsible.
Aquifers in 16 States in the country are contaminated by uranium, whose presence in drinking water has been linked to chronic kidney disease by several studies, a recent study has shown. More importantly, uranium doesn’t figure on the list of contaminants monitored under the Bureau of Indian Standards’ drinking water specifications. The main source of this contamination is natural, but groundwater depletion by extensive withdrawal of water for irrigation and nitrite pollution due to the excessive use of nitrogenous fertilisers may be exacerbating the problem, said the study.
– The study was carried out by a team of researchers led by Avner Vengosh, professor of geochemistry and water quality at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University in the US. The team, which also included experts from the Central Ground Water Board, the Rajasthan government’s Ground Water Department and Gujarat Water Resources Development Corporation, analysed groundwater samples from 226 locations in Rajasthan and 98 in Gujarat.
The Central Water Commission (CWC) of India’s Union Ministry of Water Resources periodically updates India’s National Register of Large Dams (NRLD), the latest edition seems to have been put up recently[i]. Significantly, this latest edition reports huge jump in number of large dams in India, compared to the previous editions from 2009 that SANDRP has been monitoring. The 2009 edition of NRLD had 5100 large dams and the editions from 2012 to 2016 had listed 5190 to 5170 large dams, but the 2017 edition suddenly reports that now India has 5701 large dams, a jump of over 510 from the editions in last five years. This shows that neither states had been reporting correct figures of number of large dams in India, nor was CWC bothered to collect correct basic information about large dams. Continue reading “India’s National Register of Large Dams: Shows how little we know about our dams”→
All through the month, several states in the country have been battling severe flood situation. The Northeastern (Arunachal Pradesh, Assam), Western (Rajasthan Gujurat), Central (Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh) and Eastern (Bihar, Odisha, West Bengal) regions have been particularly affected by floods following incessant rain.
Superficially water deluge seems a natural disaster occurring on annual basis. But a closer observation of flood monitoring mechanisms and scores of media reports reveal that most of the flood crisis is man-made and dams have been playing a bigger role in creating a disaster out of a natural phenomenon.
The third dimension in the flood tragedy is the fact that responsible authorities like Central Water Commission (CWC), concerned state department have failed to issue timely warning in so many incidences which could have otherwise been avoided or mitigated. There are also reports suggesting that there was no prior forecast and warning for ongoing floods in Gujarat and Rajasthan.
Similarly there have been dozens of incidents in different parts where flood situation has been either caused or aggravated by faulty dam operation, breach in dams and lack of timely warning by responsible authorities.
बाणसागर बाॅध, सोन नदी, गंगा नदी और पटना को दर्शाता मानचित्र
21 अगस्त 2016 की सुबह, गंगा नदी का जलस्तर लगातार बढ़ते हुए, पटना में 50.43 मीटर पर पहुॅच गया। जिससे पटना में गंगा नदी अपने पहले के उच्चतम बाढ़स्तर 50.27 मीटर से 16 सैंटीमीटर ऊपर बह रही थी। 22 अगस्त 2016 तक पानी का जलस्तर गंगा नदी के किनारे तीन अन्य स्थानों पर उच्चतम बाढ़स्तर को पार कर गया। जिसका विवरण निम्न हैः-
स्थान 22.08.2016 को उच्चतम बाढ़स्तर पुराना उच्चतम बाढ़स्तर बलिया उत्तरप्रदेश 60.30 मीटर 60.25 मीटर (14 सितंबर 2003) हाथीदाह, बिहार 43.17 मीटर 43.15 मीटर (07 अगस्त 1971) भागलपुर बिहार 34.55 मीटर 34.50 मीटर (05 सितंबर 2013)
इस तरह से हम देखते हैं कि पटना में उच्चतम बाढ़ का रिकार्ड तोडने के बाद, अब यह बाढ़ गंगा नदी के किनारे बसे बिहार और उत्तरप्रदेश के अन्य इलाकों में पहुॅच रही है। यहाॅ यह बात उल्लेखनीय है कि बिहार में अब तक वर्षा औसत से 14 प्रतिशत कम हुई है। सवाल यह उठता है कि इसके बावजूद गंगा में रिकार्ड तोडने वाली बाढ़ क्यों आयी?
Who has not seen a river? And who has then, not been moved by a fierce emotion? The common man sees its life granting blessed form, the government or CWC engineer sees in it as a potential dam project, the hydropower developers a site for hydro project, a farmer his crop vitality, fisher folk, boatspeople and river bed cultivators a source of livelihood, the industry & urban water utilities view it as their personal waste basket, the real estate developer as a potential land grab site, a sand miner as a source of sand and the distraught villager his lifeline. In earlier days, film makers used to see it as site for filming some memorable songs, but these days even that has become a rarity.
Rivers truly are a complex entity that invoke varied emotions and responses!
A river shifts in colour, shape, size, flow pattern of water, silt, nutrients and biota, in fact all its variables seem to change with time and space. The perceptions differ as one moves from mountains to plains to the deltas. The same stream displays a wide variance of characteristics that depend upon the land it flows through and the micro climate along its banks. Rivers many a times seem to mirror the local flavour of the land they flow through. Or is it the local flavour that changes with river flow? Clearly both are interdependent.
Today, as we talk of rivers, their rejuvenation and try to figure out their ecological flow and their health quotient , a good beginning to understand the existing rivers would be their classification modules. What defines a river? Which factors are used for their classification? How do we actually classify our rivers?
As far as the first of these questions is concerned, none of the official agencies have tried to define a river!
Possiby, the first post independence classification of river basins was attempted in 1949 by precuser institute of current Central Water Commission (CWC). Since then various organisations have followed their own methodology and criteria for basin classification and arrived at different numbers.
NIH (National Institute of Hydrology), Roorkee organises our 7 major rivers, that is the Brahmaputra (apparently this includes the Ganga and the Meghna), Godavri, Krishna & Mahanadi (that flow into the Bay of Bengal), and the Indus, Narmada & Tapi (which drain into the Arabian Sea) , along with their tributaries to make up the entire river system in our country. This is clearly problematic and chaotic, since it leaves out vast areas of the country and the rivers that flow through them.
A quick look at the classification based on these 3 aspects –origin, topography and the basin they form.
Based on Origin or Source
Depending on the origin or where they begin their journey from, there are the Himalayan (perennial) rivers that rise from the Himalayas and the Peninsular rivers that originate from the Indian plateau. The Himalayan rivers include the Ganga, the Indus and the Brahmaputra river systems along with their tributaries, which are fed throughout the year by melting ice and rainfall. They are swift, have great erosion capacity and carry huge amounts of silt & sand. They meander along the flat land, create large fertile flood plains in their wake and their banks are dotted by major towns and cities.
The peninsular rivers, on the other hand are more or less dependent on rain. These are gentler in their flow, follow a relatively straighter path, have comparatively less gradient and include Narmada, Tapi, Godavari, Krishna, Cauveri and Mahanadi rivers, among many others.
Based on topography
The Himalayan Rivers flow throughout the year, are prone to flooding and include Indus and the Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghna.
The Deccan Rivers include the Narmada and Tapi rivers that flow westwards into the Arabian Sea, and the Brahmani, Mahanadi, Godavari, Krishna, Pennar & Cauvery that fall into the Bay of Bengal.
The Coastal Rivers are comparatively small in size and numerous in number, with nearly 600 flowing on the west coast itself.
Rivers of the Inland Drainage Basin are centered in western Rajasthan, parts of Kutch in Gujarat and mostly disappear before they reach the sea as the rainfall here is scarce. Some of them drain into salt lakes or simply get lost in the vast desert sands.
Island Rivers Rivers of our islands: A&N islands & Lakshadip group of islands
The Narmada River System comprises of the Narmada River that represents the traditional boundary between North & South India and which empties into the Arabian Sea in Bharuch district of Gujarat. Tapi river of the Tapi River System rises in the eastern Satpura Range of Madhya Pradesh and then empties into the Gulf of Cambay of the Arabian Sea, Gujarat. Its major tributaries are Purna, Girna , Panzara , Waghur , Bori and Aner rivers.
Also called the Vriddh (Old) Ganga or the Dakshin (South) Ganga, Godavari of the Godavari River System, originates at Trambakeshwar, Maharashtra and empties into the Bay of Bengal. Summers find the river dry, while monsoons widen the river course. Its major tributaries include Indravati, Pranahita, Manjira, Bindusara and Sabari rivers.
The Krishna River System includes Krishna river, one of the longest rivers of the country,that originates at Mahabaleswar, Maharashtra, and meets the sea in the Bay of Bengal at Hamasaladeevi, Andhra Pradesh. Tungabhadra River, formed by Tunga and Bhadra rivers, is one of its principal tributary. Others are Koyna, Bhima, Mallaprabha, Ghataprabha, Yerla, Warna, Dindi, Musi and Dudhganga rivers.
The Kaveri River System has the Kaveri (or Cauvery) river whose source is Talakaveri in the Western Ghats and it flows into the Bay of Bengal. It has many tributaries including Shimsha, Hemavati, Arkavathy, Kapila, Honnuhole, Lakshmana Tirtha, Kabini, Lokapavani, Bhavani, Noyyal and Amaravati. The Mahanadi of the Mahanadi River System, a river of eastern India rises in the Satpura Range and flows east into the Bay of Bengal.
Broader definition: Catchment area size
River basins are widely recognized as a practical hydrological unit. And these can also be grouped, based on the size of their catchment areas (CA). This easy to understand river system classification divides them into the following categories as tabulated below:
CA in sq km
No. of river basins
CA in million sq. Km
% Run off
Major river basin
CA > 20,000
Minor (Coastal areas)
Flow is uncertain & most lost in desert
Major river basins include the perennial Himalayan rivers- Indus, Ganga & Brahmaputra, the 7 river systems of central India, the Sabarmati, the Mahi, Narmada & Tapi on the west coast and the Subarnekha, Brahmani & the Mahanadi on the east coast and the 4 river basins of Godavri, Krishna, Pennar and Cauvery, which takes the total to 14. The medium river basins include 23 east flowing rivers such as Baitarni, Matai & Palar. A few important west flowing rivers are Shetrunji, Bhadra, Vaitarna & Kalinadi. The minor river basins include the numerous, but essentially small streams that flow in the coastal areas. In the East coast, the land width between the sea and the mountains is about 100 km, while in the West coast, it ranges between 10 to 40 km. The desert rivers flow for a distance and then disappear in the desert of Rajasthan or Rann of Kutch, generally without meeting the sea.
A need for details
Under India-WRIS (Water Resources Information System) project too, the river basin has been taken as the basic hydrological unit, but the country has been divided into 6 water resource regions, 25 basins and 101 sub basins, which are an extension of the earlier 20 basins delineated by CWC, as detailed in the ‘River basin Atlas of India’.  The details of the individual catchment area of these 20 river basins is tabulated here:
CA (Sq. Km)
River Length, km
Indus (Upto border)
Barak & others
Brahmani & Baitarni
West flowing rivers from Tapi to Tadri
Many independent rivers
West flowing rivers from Tadri to Kanyakumari
East flowing rivers Between Mahanadi & pennar
East flowing rivers Between Pennar & Kanyakumari
W flowing rivers of Kutch & Saurashtra includes Luni
Area of inland drainage in Rajasthan
Many independent rivers
Minor rivers draining into Myanmar & Bangladesh
Many independent rivers
Note: 1. River Length is only for the main stem of the river, does not include tributaries, etc.
Area of inland drainage in Rajasthan is not given in this reference, it has been arrived at by inference.
Indus basin is constibuted by six main rivers: Sutlej, Beas, Ravi, Chenab, Jhelum and Indus itself. Some tributaries of this system form independent catchment in India (e.g. Tawi river in Chenab basin) as these confluence with the main river only in downstream of the border.
Of course these methods only classify rivers based on their physical & geographical attributes, their drainage area, river length, volume of water carried and tributary details. For a detailed study of a river, what is also needed is its ecological assessment. The methods for river classification may be varied and still evolving, but this information is fundamental to better understand and map the rivers that criss cross across the country.
And definitely a first step to try and understand our rivers!
During Sept 4-6, 2014 Jammu and Kashmir in North India is facing one of the worst floods. NDTV has reported that these are the worst floods in 60 years (The Times of India reported that this was worst flood of the state since independence based on number of casualties.). More than 160 people have died and some 2500 villages are affected (1615 in the valley, rest in Jammu), out of which 450 are completely submerged (390 in valley). Over 10 000 people are stranded across the state. The flood has affected almost all 10 districts in the Jammu region. J&K Chief Minister admitted that the rescuers have yet to reach the worst affected South Kashmir region. Jammu Srinagar Highway has remained blocked for over three days. Several rivers have been flowing above the danger mark and most parts of south Kashmir, including Pulwama, Anantnag and Kulgam districts have been submerged. Jhelum was flowing at 30.7 ft in South Kashmir, 7 ft above the danger mark. Chenab river was also flowing above the danger mark at several places.
Unprecedented floods Landslides triggered by heavy rainfall have damaged roads, dozens of bridges, buildings and crops. As many as 40 people went missing after a landslide in Thanamandi area of Rajouri district in Jammu region. Heavy rain in the catchment areas of Jhelum river has so far submerged more than 100 villages in the south Kashmir districts of Anantnag, Kulgam, Shopian, Pulwama, where the river was still rising, as well as the north Kashmir districts of Ganderbal, Srinagar and Badgam. The flood has surpassed the 1992 memories and revived the 1959 flood memories.
Vehicular traffic has been stopped on the Jammu-Pathankot highway due to incessant rain. Jammu is on red alert and Tawi bridge is also in danger.
State Finance Minister Abdul Rahim Rather said Chenab was flowing at 38 ft at Akhnoor which is four ft above the danger mark cumulatively discharging 2.75 lakh cusecs, a quantum of discharge which equals all other rivers of the state.
The situation is very grim indeed: “According to the Army, the situation in the state is as grim as it was in Uttarakhand last year.” Union Home Minister has visited the state and the prime minister has expressed grief.
VERY HEAVY Rainfall during Sept 3-6 The state received massive 250 mm of rainfall in just three days between Sept 3-4, out of its seasonal monsoon rainfall of 568 mm till Sept 6, 2014. Rainfall just on Sept 6 was 106 mm, which is unbelievable 3116% of the normal rainfall for that date for J&K.
It can be seen from the season rainfall map see above of India Meteorology Department as on Sept 6, 2014 that J&K had received 558 mm rainfall till that date, progressing to Excess Rainfall category (blue colour code) from Deficit season rainfall of 308 mm as on Sept 3, 2014 (see IMD map below), in just three days.
CWC has no flood forecasts for J&K However, shockingly, India’s premier water resources body, Central Water Commission, responsible for flood forecasting and providing advisory to the states for tackling floods, has no flood forecast for any place in the state. The CWC’s flood forecast list on Sept 6, 2014 has 18 level forecasts and 8 inflow forecasts, but NONE from J&K. CWC’s Flood forecast site has another option that provides hydrographs for various rivers and location. Again for J&K it provides NO hydrographs. The options on CWC’s Flood Forecast site for list based selection and map based selection again has no information about Jammu & Kashmir.
This seems like shocking omission on the part of CWC, which functions under Union Ministry of Water Resources and reminds one that CWC completely failed to provide any flood forecast when Uttarakhand faced its worst floods in June 2013. We hope CWC will urgently include the flood vulnerable sites of J&K in its flood forecasting and also explain to the people of J&K and rest of the country why these sites were not included so far.
Mismanaged hydro projects increase the damage In this context, media has reported that Dulhasti Hydropower project on Chenab river decided to open its flood gates DURING the worst flood period, which lead to further increase in flood levels in the downstream areas: “Release of water by NHPC dam is expected to increase the levels of the Chenab massively between Kishtwar and Ramban. Surged level can lead to submergence of the highway.” Such additional floods could have been avoided if the gates were kept opened in anticipation of floods. Such opening of gates during the floods can lead to catastrophic consequences for the downstream areas as happened in case of Srinagar Hydropower project in Uttarakhand in June 2013.
MoEF’s wrong decisions The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests have been clearing hydropower projects in the Chenab basin even without proper social and environment impact assessment as was evident in case of Sach Khas project most recently. As SANDRP pointed out in a submission to the Expert Appraisal Committee, the EIA and public hearing process of the Sach Khas HEP has been fundamentally inadequate and flawed and yet without even acknowledging the issues raised in this submission the EAC has recommended approval of the project. This is bound to be legally untenable decision. Such decisions by the EAC and MoEF are likely to add to the disaster potential in Chanab and other basins in J&K. There is also no cumulative impact assessment of such massive number of big hydropower projects any basins of J&K.
It is well known, as witnessed in case of Uttarakhand in 2013, that hydropower projects hugely add to the disaster potential of the vulnerable areas. We hope the J&K and central governments make this assessment on urgent basis and we hope the apex court does not have to intervene for such assessment as the Supreme Court had to do through its order of Aug 13, 2013 in case of Uttarakhand.
POST SCRIPT: This is one possible fall out of this, also flashed by several newspaper and following CWC questioned by media: http://www.cwc.nic.in/main/webpages/Flood%20Forecasting%20in%20uncovered%20Himalayan%20and%20interstate%20inflow%20forecasting%2011092014.pdf
Stumbled upon this on January 14, 2015. Hope the government will be now implementing this.
Large dams represent a gamut of ideas around the asocial and apolitical nature of water itself, i.e., ‘modern water’, expert control, and national space that are stitched together to yield hydraulic bureaucracies or hydrocracies. In the 20th century, the ‘hydraulic mission’ (See Molle et all 2009) was accepted across the globe and entrusted with hydrocracies which became synonymous with the project of ‘development’. These hydrocracies have left an indelible mark on national economies and geographies, constructing massive damming projects i.e. what India’s first Prime Minister called ‘temple[s] of modern India’. The effects of these projects have been a mixed bag. In India, these ideas about water and technology formed a template through which the hydrocracy—which took the form of the Central Water Commission (CWC)— conceived, discussed, and justified technological interventions. Rivers were described as natural features without history, ecology, and society, making a case for greater technological control.
Using engineering voices from the Indian Journal of Power and River Valley Development (IJPRVD) and Government of India publications, I attempt to puncture the ‘tunnel vision’ of hydraulic development in India. Juxtaposing two contrasting narratives within the engineering community, the attempt is simply to bring out the spirited debate on large dams in post independence India- a fact lost in the din about which narrative won.
Except one engineer, M.Karantha who was the Chief Electrical Inspector of the erstwhile Madras Presidency, all the other engineers quoted in this post viz. A.Khosla, K.L. Vij, S.N.Gupta, Kanwar Sain etc were a part of the Central Water & Power Commission (CW&PC) before it became the Central Water Commission (CWC).
Transforming Rivers into datasets Hydraulic manipulation has a long history in the Indian subcontinent. Hydraulic engineers in the 20th century recast modern irrigation as the logical conclusion of millennia long hydraulic manipulation practices- projecting irrigation, specifically dams and canals, as age-old components of the riverine landscape thus establishing continuity with the ‘unbroken’ tradition of hydraulic manipulation. This projection was selective: it did not acknowledge the colonial state’s role in establishing a radical break in hydraulic principle in the subcontinent by introducing perennial irrigation; barrages and weirs that effectively flattened a river’s variable flow. Instead, independence was projected as the watershed moment at which the millennia long project of hydraulic manipulation would reach fruition in the form of large dam projects.
Interestingly, engineers saw colonialism as helping bring modern science and technology to India; colonialism’s only limitation was ‘that it constituted an insult in that it denied that Indians could fully be partners in the enterprise of modernity’ (Klingensmith 2007: 233). Modernity in their eyes was an inevitable process, denied to India pre-independence. Modern science was a universal, emancipating category. According to S.N. Gupta: ‘[S]cientific, engineering and industrial research directed towards greater understanding and greater control of material surroundings is the keynote of the modern search for progress and power’ (Gupta 1970:3). The unfinished business of modernity, thus, was the complete control of nature, which could only be realized through the nation-state.
A System of Limits and Solutions One of the foremost challenges facing post independent India was food security. Narratives for water control underscore this challenge. There were carefully worded alarms about scarcity and impending catastrophe. Such warnings are found with striking regularity in the IJPRVDand the Silver Jubilee Souvenir of the CW&PC. For instance, S.N. Gupta asserted:
[T]he fateful year 1947- the year of India’s independence brought both responsibilities and opportunities. The country was faced with the basic question: Adequate production of food for the growing millions (S.N. Gupta 1970: 1).
The only way to meet this ever-increasing demand was to increase the area under cultivation by providing more water: The food production has to keep pace with the ever increasing requirements of population. The principal remedy for meeting this increased demand is to steadily extend irrigation facilities (Kanwar Sain 1959: 37a).
The answer was simply put: greater investment in developing water resources to ensure that the twin challenges of a rising population and looming food scarcity could be met effectively. Technology would provide solutions to tame nature for human needs.
There are two equally important elements in human progress. They are the development of spirit and character on the one hand, and the mastery of the physical world on the other… Without mastery over nature, our earth, as it stands would support but a small fraction of the present population… I submit that hunger and poverty are no longer beyond solution. The mastery over the physical world gives us the key to the problem. The most thickly populated regions on earth can be satisfactorily fed if the most effective known methods are applied. The technical possibilities of feeding the world will probably always run far ahead of the increase in population (Kanwar Sain 1957:1).This neo-Malthusian trap anticipated more than just technological problems and solutions. The rhetoric about looming scarcity and overpopulation served as a vantage point to drive home arguments for large multipurpose projects. This was an unprecedented move by Indian engineers in conceptualizing Indian rivers. Modeled on the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority), these projects would render rivers into a ledger of flows and returns. As a complete system of inter-related projects, the aim was to ensure rivers would no longer ‘run waste to the sea’ (Khosla 1951:2). Basin-wide development therefore came to be premised on the scarcity trap. These visions of scarcity were axiomatic in two ways:
1) The ability of science and engineers to forewarn such a possibility due to the exact nature of their science and scientific method.
2) The need for planned development to ensure that fragile and unreliable natural resources could be yielded into reliable flows to provide consistent maximum returns.
Without large multi-purpose dam projects to control floods, manufacture electricity, provide water for irrigation, and utilize an ‘inexhaustible source of water supply in the form of rainfall’, all that water would go to waste (Khosla 1970a: 15). These projects would meet the pressing needs of the country:
[K]eeping in view the need of the country, priority has been accorded to projects likely to yield additional food at an early date. Large multi-purpose projects have been phased with a view to an early completion of their irrigation aspect (Dhir 1959: 57).
Indeed, as K.L. Vij stated while commenting on hydro-electric resources in India emphatically:
[E]ssentially the problem is simple, in that it resolves itself into an examination of the possibilities of utilizing “available water supplies” at the maximum possible head (Vij 1959: 64).
It was only through such a thorough examination of hydraulic heads that entire river basins could function as measures of water resources. As stocks of volumes, rivers held enormous possibilities, provided they were engineered holistically so as to ensure maximum returns.
Burgeoning Bureaucracy It’s [sic] (the CW&PC’s) development and march towards organizational expansion has been linked up with the development and planning of projects in the country since Independence and thus the stature of the Commission today is a barometer of the progress achieved by the country in the fields of irrigation and power (Jain 1970a: 21).
Kanwar Sain summed up the times emphatically: ‘[K]ey to the production of wealth is the Kilowatt. Underlying the country’s capacity to produce anything else is our capacity to produce power’ (Sain 1959: 37b. Emphasis added). There is a clear imperative to scale up through expert-led interventions. According to H.S. Desai,
[V]iewed purely from technical angle, and given all the goodwill that such cases deserve other angles, it is felt that engineers could and should have the last word on the development of the water resources of the country (Desai and Rao, 1970: 82).
Development, it might seem, could best achieved if driven by expert-led organizations like CW&PC. This championing of a burgeoning hydrocracy helped incubate and insulate it from overt political and social questions.
Holistic Planning for Basin-wide Development Planning water resource development required rearranging rivers into basin-units instead of geographies or people. Rivers as basin-units, like the larger nation state were comparable and amenable to technological solutions for resource optimization, and wired apolitically. Sain clearly charted out a course for the same:
[T]o make effective use of waters for irrigation, navigation, power and other allied purposes, it is necessary that a careful and unified development of the whole basin is planned irrespective of that number of States or Provincial boundaries that may be involved. It is only in this manner that optimum utilization of resources of the entire water-shed can be made and waste of any potential resources of the valley eliminated. If the entire basin is not developed as a unit there is the possibility of confusion arising when each State starts controlling the river from its own point of view (Sain 1959: 37b-c).
Some of the many voices include those of M.L. Sood, A.N. Khosla and S.K. Jain:
Practically all the river systems of the country run through more than one State. Their balanced development in the interest of navigation and other objects, e.g., irrigation, hydro-electric power and flood control, demands that the entire valley is treated as one unit irrespective of State boundaries (Sood 1959:52).
Modern technology for conservation and utilization of water resources is making rapid strides. With a unified and integrated approach to the development and utilization of surface and ground waters and to problems of agriculture and irrigation, this challenge (of looming resource crunch and a steady population rise) can be met (Khosla 1970a: 14).
It has been well recognized that river basin should be considered a single unit for development of water resources (Jain, 1970:12).
A basin-based approach across rivers was thus, the most efficient means to develop the nation’s water resources: ‘[T]he water and power resources of a region, basin and sub-basin and the transfer and interchange of both water and power between regions, basins and sub-basins in the overall interest of the country and regions concerned’(Khosla 1970a:12). These arguments combined to form the basis for a National Water Grid — an idea first proposed by Sir Arthur Cotton in the 19th century. Post Independence, the grid was seen as a means to ensure that the excesses of one river basin could replenish the deficiencies of another:
Large areas in Western, Central and Southern India have a very low rainfall while in the Northern and Eastern regions heavy monsoon rains cause extensive floods and large volumes of water flow waste to the sea. The National Water Grid has been conceived for remedying this imbalance to a certain extent by transferring waters from surplus regions to deficit areas by interlinking the various river basins so that transfer of water becomes possible (Rao 1979:104).
Rivers, thus, came to be re-conceptualized as units that could be rationally developed for maximum usage through multi-purpose projects. The natural world came to be arranged as a system of excesses and deficits that could be corrected with mathematical precision to yield steady, uniform returns. To the post-independence engineering mind, the National Water Grid was not a possibility but a certainty; the question was when it would become reality & not if it is desirable, viable or acceptable:
[T]hese policies will have to be implemented sooner or later for the survival and prosperity of our country (Rao 1979:100).
Driven by a burgeoning hydrocracy, the National Water Grid would render the riverine landscape entirely legible and amenable to complete development as well as provide impetus to power sector development, with reliable flows for hydropower generation. Tapped from source to mouth, river would cease to flow freely or at all. Instead, they would populate man made lakes; the tail of one reservoir would be the beginning of another hydro-project.
Rivers were thus reified and reconceptualized as prospective models that could be reproducible; a function of heads and cusecs. The development apparatus thus acquired ‘the character of calculability’ (Mitchell 2002:92) that mediated between material realities and the abstractions of science and politics. Numerical indicators came to speak for themselves and became tangible enough to mold facts. Rivers came to be organized in a linear fashion, as reproducible units across landscapes that were framed and solved technologically.
Marking the Elisions Despite their self-assuredness, these claims faced doubts, criticisms, opposition and questions. Engineers’ own admissions about the nature of hydrology are telling:
When the position regarding the resources of the country began to be reconsidered after the attainment of Independence in August 1947, it became apparent that there was very little data to enable an accurate estimate of the power potential to the country. Even selection of schemes for immediate detailed investigations had to be done on an ‘ad hoc’ basis (Vij 1959:64; emphasis original).
Indeed, according to the Five Member Review of the Sardar Sarovar Project by Patil et al, the CWC itself admitted:
Hydrology as a discipline is different from most of the engineering disciplines. Natural phenomena, with which hydrology is concerned, though have underlying physical processes, are complex and not amenable, to deterministic approach: They do not lend themselves to rigorous analysis not offer unique solutions as are possible in engineering mechanics [sic]. Since water resource development activity cannot be delayed for want of data of adequate quality and quantity, best judgement has to be resorted to. In the field of hydrology one has to devise methods to suit the data available and come out with solutions. Accepting a solution in turn needs judgement with due consideration to sociological, economic and political situations (Patil et al, 1994:7; emphasis added, see: www.ielrc.org/content/c9402.pdf).
Development plans preceded data, in lieu of which, projections and assumptions would have to do. Until 1958, when the erstwhile Ministry of Irrigation and Power (now the Ministry of Water Resources) set up a number of gauge and discharge observation stations on the Ganges and its tributaries to assess the flow, plans for river development were based on A.N. Khosla’s pioneering formula to calculate stream flows based on certain assumptions.
Voices of dissent constantly called for a more reflexive, inclusive, and engaged process of development. M.V. Karantha, the Chief Electrical Inspector of the erstwhile Madras Presidency was an early critic. In his article in the March 1952 issue of IJPRVD, he charged that his colleagues built for themselves and for Western observers rather than for India’s villagers. He observed that in India, like in other parts of Asia, ‘it has been the small tail of urban population that has been waging the body, the rural population’ (Karantha 1952: 11). In order to realise the true embodiments of democracy, he asked engineers to realise that engineers should utilise their education and training ‘not only for own self-advancement but also for the benefit of the common man if democracy is to be real and to survive’. According to Karantha, the common man is the single most important denominator for gauging the efficacy of engineering processes and technology. He said,
[I]f we Indian Engineers are to be praised for what we have done and what we are going to do for our country, obviously the praise has to be for what we have done and what we are going to do for these majority people, the common man (Karantha 1952:11).
Karantha championed the need for local solutions because, ‘[O]ur economic and industrial problems are peculiarly our own’ (Karantha 1952:16). He was particularly critical of western models that were prescriptively and sometimes uncritically imported to India:
[O]nly if we realise that in the field of technology the problem of India is indeed very different from that of the Western countries whose practice we have been blindly adopting. Ours is a country in which the population has now grown beyond any easily manageable limit. Even our annual increase of population is as much as that of the entire population of some of the smaller nations of Europe. Our resources though not bad are like the property of a middle class man which has got to be divided amongst his dozen children. There is too little to go around to all to enable us to act as if we are engineers living in America. We have no great outside markets for manufactured good from which we can enrich ourselves for us to act as if we were the rich British or Swiss engineers. It will be a tremendous task to increase our prosperity yearly even to the extent our population is increasing yearly. It is exceedingly stupid and suicidal for a poor man to imitate a rich man. For a similar reason, it is suicidal for us to imitate our poor country the methods which the rich and prosperous Western countries have adopted. We have no tangible proof whatsoever that we can ever catch up with them for very many decades to come (Karantha 1952: 18).
Karantha was extremely anxious about a centralized bureaucracy:
It seems to be that there is often, for people in our country, a fascination for collecting more power for themselves and to believe that others can never be trusted to do things so efficiently. But more the centralization the less the touch with local conditions which alone are capable of being turned to advantage by way of cheapness and quickness of action, so essential for our country. Engineers sitting far away do not find it easy to tackle endless local problem of varied types. So they insist on standardization, however costly it be. They have also better chances of salaries and promotion, the more the services are centralised. But it is the common man that finally pays for all the costliness, delays and misunderstanding of local problems. Nor is over-centralisation the way to train our people in democracy (Karantha 1952: 20).
In a more focused critique, engineer Ram Kishore examined the financial aspects of irrigation works, asking questions of transparency, efficiency etc. He remarked that:
A large number of irrigation works and other development projects are under consideration, investigation or construction in India. Some of them have been completed. Figures of actual cost in the case of completed projects, and of estimated cost in the case of other projects are usually available with ease, through often very late; but figures of anticipated net profits and other figures for the comparison of different projects are usually not available to the public. They are worked out in Government offices but are not usually published, apparently in order to avoid or reduce criticism.
All estimates and forecasts are in their very nature approximate and liable to prove more or less wrong, or incorrect when the project has been built and developed, more specially when the time of construction and development is long. We all make estimates and forecasts, and it is very important to do so, even if they prove a hundred percent out in the end; only we should try and make our estimates as correct as possible, and also invite suggestions and criticism. All printed literature about Government Projects should be made available to the public, sufficiently in advance of their being sanctioned so that non-government engineers, and others can offer suitable criticism. This is very important in a democratic country, even though it will to some extent increase work in Government offices. It will most probably do a great deal of good. In the absence of correct information criticism, where made, is usually based on wrong information and does more harm than good (Kishore 1952: 29-30).
At first glance, it might have seemed that the development process in post independence India was undeterred. In questioning the centralizing tendencies of the bureaucracy and calling for greater transparency and locality in the planning process, these brief but powerful early critiques point to the frictions in development. Without remarking on which side and why, these critiques offer a radical puncturing to the ‘tunnel vision’ of hydraulic engineers. As a critique coming from within the engineering community itself, they point to the fact that maybe development did not have as much of a buy in as the early heady narratives might have had us believe.
These couple of critical voices cited above were not the only critical voices present in those initial years after independence, there were many others. But these are given here as examples to point out that there were voices even from within engineering fraternity that were pointing that alternative development paths were available, and that the path taken was not the only option available to the society. In fact even Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, in his speech before the annual meeting of CBIP in November 1958, talked about disease of gigantism plaguing Indian dam establishment (see page 6 of June 2006 issue of “Dams, Rivers & People”, see: https://sandrp.in/drp/June2006.pdf).
Why did Nehru not change the course after that speech is another question. The non-accountable culture that water engineering clan was allowed to indulge in is continuing to damage to this day. But that is another story.
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 Jamie Linton contends that the ‘modern idea of water as an objective, homogenous, ahistorical entity is complimented by its physical containment and isolation from people and reinforced by modern techniques of management that have enabled many of us to survive without having to think much about it’. He states that the twin processes of the formulation of water as a chemical formula, i.e. H2O and the development and dissemination of the concept of the hydrologic cycle represent an important contribution to the idea of abstract, modern water. In a philosophical investigation elaborating the fundamental incompatibility of modern water with people, Linton argues that despite being produced in relation to social practice, modern water is nevertheless taken to be entirely independent of social relations. Borrowing from Bruno Latour and Actor Network Theory, he claims that the ‘fictional’ independence of water from society is at the core of the ‘constitution of modern water’. This constitution of modern water holds together ‘only so long as the appearance can be sustained in hydrological and popular discourse’. See Jamie Linton, What is Water? A History of a Modern Abstraction (Kingston and Toronto: University of British Columbia Press 2010, p. 21and 175).
 The Central Water & Power Commission (CW&PC) was reconstituted as the Central Water Commission in 1974 & Central Electricity Authority. The CW&PC itself had a long gestation period and was a combination of a bunch of institutions that dealt with inland navigation, power generation, and hydraulic engineering.
 To read the story of Budhni Mejhan, see: http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-opinion/recovering-budhni-mejhan-from-the-silted-landscape-of-modern-india/article3481766.ece