Hirakud

Mahanadi River Basin, India: flood water to factories or flood control in reality?

By Ranjan Panda│Climate Crusaders

People are apprehending submergence of agricultural land and displacement. The government needs to discuss the details with the people first.

The dam woes continue to increase as flood control operations have failed.  Time flood management is done at the entire basin level rather than just the main river flow.

Why World Bank loan for such projects when thousands of crores of water tax and penalties are pending with industries who are drawing water from Hirakud dam, India?

This article was originally published in Climate Crusaders, the blogpost of Ranjan Panda
We have been hearing from media reports that the government is planning to dig extra spillways to check floods from the Hirakud Dam.  It seems some high level committee comprising of members from the World Bank, the Central Water Commission and the Dam Safety Department has been making surveys; and soon a proposal will be finalized how to construct the spill ways.
At present there are 98 gates through which flood water is released from Hirakud, supposedly Asia’s largest earthen dam and the biggest structure intercepting Mahanadi waters at the border of Odisha and Chhatisgarh. Of these, 64 are sluice gates and 34 are crest gates. Around 12 lakh cusec water is released from the 98 gates at a time.

This proposal, as can be read from media reports, is to increase the flood water discharge capacity of the dam to one and half times.  Currently, as the authorities inform, the dam’s discharge capacity is 12 lakh cusec of flood water.  This is intended to increase to 18 lakh cusec once the spillways are constructed under a programme called Dam Rehabilitation and Improvement Project being implemented with World Bank loan.

However, we have our doubts about this process because of the secrecy that is being maintained on the survey and the proposal.  Based on media reports, farmers and other common people have already started apprehending submergence of agricultural land and displacement by the project.   We are therefore urging upon the government to immediately make the process transparent so that apprehensions of submergence of agricultural lands and displacement of people – if any – comes to be discussed in the open.  Hirakud dam, which was constructed in the 50s, is yet to resettle thousands of people it displaced.  There are horrifying stories of devastation the Dam has exposed the locals to.  Any further displacement and submergence will definitely invite a lot of ire from the locals.  The government must therefore be transparent in this process.

In fact, the proposal of spillways also brings to discussion two aspects in which the government always kept giving false impressions.  First, despite repeated failure of the dam in managing floods, it kept boasting of success.  Second that the dam is safe.  Even the Odisha government had said to the honourable High Court that there has not been any lacuna in flood management.  Now, when they are proposing extra spillways construction to manage floods because the dam has failed exposes the government’s lie in these regards.

The dam has utterly failed in controlling flood in the river Mahanadi and the very design of the dam is responsible for that.  In fact, a dam that was originally built to check floods in coastal Odisha is now causing floods in western Odisha as well.  Sambalpur floods, controlling which is being proposed as one of the main objectives of this spillways construction, is actually a creation of the Hirakud Dam.  We are now experiencing regular floods in Sambalpur for mismanagement of the dam.

Ever since industries were allocated, in a non-transparent manner, water from the reservoir the flood management capacity of the dam has been further failed by the authorities. Now, we are not sure what kind of a proposal they are going to come up with. However, looking at the ground realities and the ways things have gone so far with management of the Hirakud dam, we apprehend these spillways are just an attempt to divert some amount of flood waters so as to fill water needs of the industrial houses that have not been harvesting rainwater despite of government instructions.

It is high time the government made the process open to the public of the area especially because 80 per cent of the cost of this construction would be met with credits/loans from the World Bank. We the people of the state have to repay these loans and hence we should have a say in the planning itself.  We would also like to ask the government as to why it is going for loans from World Bank for water projects while it has failed to recover thousands of crores worth water tax and penalties from industries?.  Better recover the amounts due with the industries and plan flood management and other water projects with that.

Large dams are now outdated concepts and invite several woes and disasters.  The government should therefore refrain from investing further in Hirakud dam, which is already ageing and whose storage capacity is reduced by more than one third.  In fact, the government should now invest in checking flood waters at feeder basin levels and not at the main river.  Management of flood waters in an ecological approach at the entire basin is need of the hour.  It is also vital to free water bodies, river beds and flood plains from all sorts of encroachment.  Forest conservation and restriction of mining zones in the catchment areas are further needed if we are serious about flood management.

For the safety of the dam and safety of the people downstream the government should now look at decommissioning it in a way that protects the irrigation and power supply.  Any investment made in redesigning the dam for this should be more beneficial, we are sure.