Gujarat: Does Narmada get flooded each year around Modis birthday?
Three districts have been flooded since September 17, after the Gujarat government opened the floodgates of the Sardar Sarovar dam.

Gujarat: Does Narmada get flooded each year around Modi's birthday?

IMD had warned of heavy rain, but state authority waited till PM’s birthday to open the floodgates, say critics

After 48 hours of a flood-like situation in Bharuch, Ankleshwar, and Vadodara districts of Gujarat, the water has begun to recede leaving a trail of losses while the Narmada dam and nine other reservoirs in the state still continued to overflow for the third consecutive day.

The three districts that fall in the downstream of the Narmada River have been flooded since September 17 after the Gujarat government opened the floodgates of the Sardar Sarovar dam. The Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited (SSNNL), the authority in charge of the Sardar Sarovar Dam, has been discharging 5.94 lakh cusecs of water from the dam by keeping three gates open. However, on September 17 this year, SSNNL released 18.76 lakh cusecs of water into the dam’s canal causing it to overflow.

What's strange is that this is a recurring problem. Since 2017, such flooding has been happening around September 17, the birthday of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Multiple units of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) were deployed in the three districts and 14,000 people were evacuated in the last two days. Out of the 36 villages in the three districts where electricity supply was cut off, supply in ten villages is yet to be restored.

This is the largest number of people that the state government has evacuated in a disaster situation after the Biparjoy cylone that impacted the coastal districts of the state in June this year.

'SSNNL to blame'

The data of water released by the SSNNL authorities that was analysed by South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) has revealed that the water level at the Golden Bridge in Bharuch approached the highest flood level on September 17, 2023. This could have been significantly lower and much less disastrous both for the upstream and downstream areas of the dam if the SSNNL authorities had taken action earlier based on available actionable information and based on sound reservoir operation principles of following the rule curve.

In their analysis published on September 17, SANDRP claimed, “Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) Dam operators have once again contributed to huge and largely-avoidable downstream floods in Gujarat. The water level at Golden Bridge in Bharuch approached HFL (Highest Flood Level) on September 17, 2023, but these floods could have been significantly lower and much less disastrous both for Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) upstream and downstream areas if SSP authorities had taken action earlier based on actionable information available and based on sound reservoir operation principles of following a rule curve.”

“In fact, the rainfall that brought these floods to SSP started on September 14 as reported by IMD (India Meteorology Department). If SSP authorities and Central Water Commission (CWC) had started inflow forecasts based on the hourly catchment-area rainfall figures, they could have increased the downstream water release from SSP on September 14 itself as the CWC and SSP authorities get hourly updates on rainfall in the catchment,” continued the report.

“The gates of the Bargi dam on Narmada were already opened on September 14. By the late evening hours on September 15, the levels of both Indira Sagar and Omkareshwar dam on the Narmada had started going up, as reported by CWC. Both Omkareshwar and Indira Sagar dams were close to their FRL (Full Reservoir Levels) by the late hours on September 15 while Bargi had already reached FRL much earlier. However, till 10 am on September 16, the SSP authorities had still not opened any of the gates. After a period of almost 48 to 72 hours of inaction, CWC and SSNNL, who owns and operates SSP, released up to 52,706 cumecs (cubic metres per second) or 18.76 lakh cusecs by 5 am on September 17 and then maintaining at around that high level for several hours thereafter,” added the report.

Link to PM's birthday?

The release of excess water in the dam coincided with an event organised by the state government at Kevadiya on September 17 to mark the 73rd birthday of Modi. Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel visited Kevadiya on the morning of September 17 for the “Narmada jal na vadhamana” (to welcome the Narmada waters).

Noticeably, every year since 2017, the SSNNL and CWC authorities have released excess water into the dam around September 17. In 2017, the water level of SSP had not crossed even the safe level of 121.92 meters till the month of August. In fact, the inflow of water from upstream was so low that water level of SSP crossed a metre higher at 122.92 m by August 28, 2017, as per the data of CWC.

According to the Daily Status Reports of Narmada Control Authority, inflow into the SSP Dam suddenly jumped from 495 cumecs on September 12 to 2,518 cumecs on September 13, 2,383 cumecs on Sept 14 and 2,210 cumecs on Sept 15. By September 17, 2017, the water level was above the safety mark as the PM celebrated his birthday by formally declaring the project complete. Since then, each year, the villages around Sardar Sarovar Dam have been witnessing floods in September.

Multiple villages submerged ahead of Statue of Unity inauguration in Oct 2018

In October 2018, when the PM had arrived to inaugurate the 3,000-crore Statue of Unity, multiple villages within 500 meters of the statue were submerged as the water level was raised in the river for beautification. Residents of these nine villages, primarily tribals, that submerged completely or partially were not warned ahead of releasing water from the dam.

“In the year 2020, Bharuch witnessed massive flooding in September after 30,000 cumecs of water was released between August 30 and September 2. Noticeably, as per the data maintained by the CWC, no water was released till August 29 despite high rainfall hugely increasing the water level in the upstream Narmada basin. On August 29, 2020, the authorities began to release water. In the next three days, 10 lakh cusecs (28,320 cumecs) of water was released,” said Rohit Prajapati, a Gujarat-based environmentalist.

Opposition up in arms over the floods

The opposition parties Congress and AAP in Gujarat have blamed the ruling BJP amid the Monsoon Session of the State Assembly for causing floods in three districts – Vadodara, Bharuch, and Ankleshwar in Central and South Gujarat respectively.

Manish Doshi, the Congress spokesperson, said, “The BJP government refused to release the dam’s waters when farmers needed it but, instead, stored it so that the reservoir overflowed on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s birthday on September 17 causing massive flood and following losses for lakhs of people.”

“The quantum of water released thereafter was so huge - 18 lakh cusecs - that it flooded towns and cities located downstream in three districts including Bharuch, Vadodara, and Ankleshwar. This was a man-made disaster and the Congress demands that all concerned officials should be booked for criminal negligence,” added Doshi.

“If the SSNNL had released the water in a planned and gradual process, the standing crops across lakhs of acres in the Saurashtra region could have been irrigated instead of the flood-like situation. In fact, the IMD had warned of heavy rain, but SSNNL waited till the Prime Minister’s birthday to open the floodgates and the SSNNL, an undertaking of the Gujarat government, caused a flood that could have been avoided,” said Palbhai Ambaliya, a farmer who heads Gujarat Kisan Congress, the farmers’ wing of the party.

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