Central Narmada authority, not SSNNL, responsible for Gujarat floods, says Govt insider

A top Gujarat government insider believes that the recent controversy surrounding the flooding of Bharuch district of South Gujarat from August 29, fails to take into account a major factor

Central Narmada authority, not SSNNL, responsible for Gujarat floods, says Govt insider
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A top Gujarat government insider, who has worked for umpteen number of years in the state’s huge Narmada and water resources establishment, believes that the recent controversy surrounding the “extraordinary” flooding of Bharuch district of South Gujarat from August 29 to September 2 Gujarat, fails to take into account a major factor.

Giving a new twist to the controversy, this insider, who has wished to remain anonymous, told Counterview that the Sardar Sarovar Dam (SSD) operators – or for that matter the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd (SSNNL), a Gujarat government agency responsible for the mammoth dam on the Narmada river – have “no say” in the release of the waters, which may have allegedly caused flooding of Narmada in Bharuch.

The controversy follows an article by well-known environmentalist Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) accusing the SSD operators for operating the dam “callously, almost cruelly, without consideration of the impact of the operation in the downstream area”, wondering why they did not go in for staggered release of water earlier, even though all the information about heavy rainfall was available since August 16.

The SSD operators released whopping 10 lakh cusecs (cubic feet per second) or 28,320 cumecs (cubic meters per second) of water from the dam, which continued for “3-4 days”, leading to the massive flooding in Bharuch, causing immense hardships to the people and massive soil erosion “on the banks of Narmada and its tributaries”, Thakkar alleged.

In their reply (endorsed by SSNNL as the view “independent engineers”), four former senior government officials – two of them ex-chief engineers of SSNNL – criticised Thakkar (without naming him) that some well-known activists “who are anti-dam in general and anti-Sardar Sarovar in particular” have been attempting to curse the SSD and its project authorities “by making false allegations of having created avoidable flood disaster".

The four ex-officials claimed, SSD operators “made use of” state of the art technology and with scientific analysis and coordinated operations of various reservoirs “with the help” of the Central Water Commission (CWC) and the Narmada Control Authority (NCA) in such a way that the discharge of water from the dam “could be restricted to less than 10 lakh cusecs for most of the times … as against the spillway discharge carrying capacity of 30 lakh cusecs.”

Taking issue with both the views, the top state insider said that SSD, as also all dams on the Narmada river upstream in Madhya Pradesh, are operated under the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal (NWDT) Award of 1979, and SSD operators, or for that matter SSNNL, in fact all other operators of the projects that have come up on Narmada, are mere “an implementing and operating agencies” whether for the release of the waters from the dams or the operation of their power houses.

The NWDT Award, he says, provides for “a machinery to implement”, which is called Narmada Control Authority (NCA). This authority “started functioning on December 20, 1980” as a “body corporate with representatives of the four states of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and representatives of the Government of India. Secretary, (water resources), Government of India, is the ex-officio chairman of the Authority.”


Seeking to put all the responsibility for SSD’s operations (which allegedly caused massive floods), this insider said, or SSNNL, or defending them (which the four ex-officials have done) would be totally wrong, the insider said, adding, it would have been better, instead, to look into "what were the directions of NCA, in the recent times to operate the gates of SSD and to operate the power houses during this period.”

Gujarat, as per the NWDT award, is an implementing and operating agency of Sardar Sarovar Dam, power houses and Main Canal

“Unless NCA communication is made public it is not correct to judge the actions of SSNNL with regard to floods in Bharuch district, as SSNNL is only supposed to carry out the directions of NCA”, the insider said.

At the same time, this insider underlined, “SSNNL should share NCA directions on its website or through a press note, instead of relying on what it calls third party independent engineers.”

The insider explained, “SSP is an interstate project fully governed by the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal (NWDT) Award of 1979. This Award is final and binding on all the four party states, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan, and the Union of India, on various aspects relating to the project. The Award is under operation and will remain under operation till it is reviewed in 2024, i.e., after 45 years of its pronouncement.”

As an inter-state body, according to this insider, NCA has also “established Real-Time Data Acquisition System (RTDAS) comprising of 96 remote stations and a Master Control Centre for the acquisition of real-time hydro-meteorological data” in order to formulate and monitor “reservoir regulation, and also regulation of water releases from Tawa, Bargi and Indira Sagar Projects in Madhya Pradesh and the Sardar Sarovar Project in Gujarat, and also regulated releases of water to SSP ex-Maheshwar project, as per directives of NWDT.”

Quoting NWDT Award’s Clause XIV, the insider said, it has “set up of machinery for implementing the decision of the tribunal” by constituting NCA, whose job is to includes “storage, apportionment, regulation and control of the Narmada waters; sharing of power benefits from Sardar Sarovar project; regulated releases by Madhya Pradesh”, and so on.

The insider said, NCA is aided by a sub-committee called Sardar Sarovar Reservoir Regulation Committee (SSRRC) under the provisions of the Award with “representatives of all the four participating states, the Central Water Commission (CWC), the Central Electricity Authority (CEA), the Ministry of Water Resources (MoWR) etc., and other expert invitees, in order to ensure “regulated releases from Madhya Pradesh, storages/levels in various dams etc.”

Underlining that “SSRRC/NCA has the duty and responsibility of regulation of gates of SSD”, the insider said, “Gujarat, as per the provisions of the Award, is an implementing and operating agency of the Sardar Sarovar Dam, its power houses and the Main Canal, and the state has to implement the directions of NCA.”

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