Gujarat government, Gujarat politicians and their supporters never tire of telling the world that the Sardar Sarovar Dam (SSD) on Narmada River is their lifeline. Shockingly, perusal of recent official documents obtained underthe right to information (RTI) Act indicate that Government of Gujarat (GOG) and its Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited (SSNNL) are least bothered about the issues of the very safety of the SSD.
The only technical body that is supposed to be in charge of safety of the dam, namely Dam Safety Panel (DSP), has remained non-existent for years together while the official reports show that the structures like stilling basin that are a part of the dam have suffered such serious damage that the Sardar Sarovar Construction Advisory Committee (SSCAC) and its Permanent Standing Committee (PSC) have repeatedly asked for attention. First they asked for urgent attention, then immediate attention, then attention before monsoon to the repair, but still, there has been no response for a long time from GOG or SSNNL.
Shockingly, India’s premier technical body on water resources, Central Water Commission (CWC), was not taking interest in this issue ostensibly since they were not represented on DSP!
Who can say Sardar Sarovar Project is really Gujarat’s lifeline and that Gujarat government is bothered about the lifeline?
Chronology of events related with damage at SSP Dam:
In what follows, we have given the blow by blow chronology of events related to the damage to SSP Dam, all information taken from official documents obtained under RTI.
May 2011: The minutes of 101st meeting of PSC notes, “He (Representative of GOG) further informed that a team of nine officials from National Institute of Oceanography, Goa carried out inspection under water of stilling basin of SSP dam during 3rd May to 15th May 2011 and it was found that there is no damage except some erosion of size 3-5 cm at some places, which is not a serious problem.” Please note the description of what NIO found, as reported by GOG here and let us see how this description and implications change from “there is no damage except…” and “not a serious problem”.
It is this report of NIO that had discovered the damage to the SSP dam stilling basins and other underground parts, the damage must have happened during 2010 monsoon or earlier, and till March 2014 and as we write this, there is no confirmation of the repairs.
June 8, 2011: 101st meeting of PSC notes: “The committee noted the progress of works and directed GOG to include the reports of National Institute of Oceanography, Goa in their quarterly progress report and also to take up remedial measures for the shortfalls indicated therein.” So PSC first asks for just necessary reports and remedial measures.
Feb 10, 2012: The minutes of the 102nd meeting of PSC notes: “Chairman suggested tat the observation of NIO may be taken seriously”. It calls for urgent steps for remedial actions on the recommendations of the NIO report and meeting of Dam Safety Panel at an early date in view of NIO report. If what NIO found was “no damage” and “not a serious problem”, as GOG reported to the 101st PSC meeting, why did PSC ask for URGENT meeting of DSP?
Moreover, the minutes of the meeting note: “The committee directed GOG to initiate urgent steps for remedial actions on the recommendations of NIO report.” The NIO report found, among other damages, “two big cavities noticed along with many minor ones” in Bay 5 and “RT wall cavity at the bottom, where a small area which found disturbed, needs attention.” Damages were also reported from Bay 1, 2, 3 & 4 and divide wall and basin floor had cavities in all the bays, more in Bay 4 & 5.
March 16, 2012: The minutes of 79th meeting of SSCAC note: “… the NIO found minor cavities, loose pieces of concrete and broken iron rod pieces on the floor.” This description shows much more serious damage than what GOG reported to 101st meeting of PSC in June 2011. The Minutes of the 79th meeting of SSCAC go on to say: “SSCAC took on record the above fact and endorsed the decision of PSC for convening the meeting of Dam Safety Panel as early as possible and address the issue.”
So NIO finds damage in May 2011, but there is no meeting of DSP till March 2012. Then PSC (Feb 2012) and SSCAC (March 2012) recommend URGENT meeting of DSP. Note that PSC and SSCAC took nine and ten months respectively to recommend URGENT meeting of DSP. And yet, there is still no meeting of DSP for another 20 months!
Aug 23, 2012: The minutes of the 104th meeting of the PSC says: “it was decided that DSP meeting may be called up immediately and underwater inspection should be carried out after monsoon whenever high magnitude flood occurs.” Note the word “immediately”, since GOG had not responded to earlier URGENT recommendation. GOG still shows no urgency.
The GOG response, on reading of minutes of the 104th meeting of PSC appears most casual: “For conducting above mentioned DSP meeting, Shri Y K Murthy, Chairman DSP panel is being contacted to get the date convenient to him. However, meeting is getting delayed as Shri Y K Murthy is not keeping good health.” Shri Murthy, it may be noted, is close to 92 years old by now… and the meeting of DSP, immediately required since over two years, is not possible since this 90+ year old person is unable to give dates! In the meantime, as the minutes of the 104th meeting notes, two flood seasons (2011 & 2012) have passed and 2012 monsoon saw water level reach record level (till than) of 129.2 m on Sept 7, 2012 and dam overflowed for more than 50 days.
Oct and Dec 2012: Considering the seriousness of the situation at SSP, SSCAC wrote letters to SSNNL on Oct 25, 2012 (Ltr no SSC/PB/PSC-104/2012/3112) and Dec 7, 2012 (Ltr no SSC/PB/PSC-105/2012/3553) asking for the status of the action by GOG on recommendation of the 104th meeting of PSC that DSP meeting be called immediately. The GOG does not bother to respond to the letters. Could SSCAC, a statutory body chaired by Union Water Resources Secretary & set up under NWDT award have done better than just writing letters, when safety of country’s costliest dam?
Feb 20, 2013: On the agenda of urgent repair of SSP dam stilling basin and meeting of DSP, the minutes of 105th meeting of PSC record: “Representative of Gujarat informed the Committee about the sad demise of Dr Y K Murthy, Chairman of DSP and so DSP has become defunct. To get expert advise it is proposed that BOC constituted for Canal work can also act as DSP for Dam. Accordingly, they referred the matter to BOC.” PSC asked GOG to send a proposal about BOC for Canals being given the task of DSP and reminded: “The remedial action needs to be completed before the monsoon of 2013.” The remedial action did not happen before the monsoon of 2013 or before the end of year 2013 either. Nor did the meeting of DSP happened till Nov 2013, after the end of Monsoon 2013.
March 25, 2013: The minutes of the 80th meeting of SSCAC notes that there is still no progress. On the GOG proposal of entrusting the DSP work to BOC for canals, SSCAC reminds GOG that “as per CWC guidelines for the safety of the project, the constitution of DSP is must.” Nothing happens till the monsoon is well underway, even the constitution of the DSP does not happen till July 2013. This means that for over 30 months after NIO discovers damaged dam, there is not even a meeting of the DSP, leave aside any remedial action.
July 6, 2013: SSNNL reconstitutes DSP under chairmanship of Shri R Jayaseelan (he is also the chairman of Board of Consultants of SSNNL), a former CWC chairman. DSP was originally constituted through GOG resolution of 20.2.1986. The DSP constituted on July 1, 2010 was supposed to be functioning till June 30, 2013 with extended term and was chaired by Dr Y K Murthy. Born in Oct 1920, Dr Murthy was already 90 when the DSP chaired by him got this extended term. Dr Murthy too was chairman of CWC during 1977-78.
Aug 18, 2013: The GOG remains most casual on the subject of DSP meeting, as reported in the minutes of the 106th meeting of PSC: “GOG representative informed that meeting of DSP will be convened within this month as per the availability/ convenience of the Chairman, DSP”. The dam safety has to wait, of course, till the chairman finds time for the meeting.
Aug 29, 2013: A letter from SSNNL to Gujarat Engineering Research Institute explains possible reason for damage to stilling basin: “Due to uncontrolled flow passing over the spillway, hydraulic conditions which have not been considered in the design of spillway basin have developed. This has caused damage/ erosion in the stilling basin area… in the floor of stilling basin, junction of stilling basin floor and divide wall/ right training wall.” SSNNL must know these conditions are existing since 2006 when dam reached present level of 121.92 m and should have taken necessary measures, but not only they do not take any, but even after NIO report shows the damage in May 2011, they don’t take any action on it for over 30 months before calling DSP meeting and even longer to start repair work.
Nov 25-26, 2013: The 48th meeting of Dam Safety Panel (at last) happens. Its first agenda is: “Repairing of Concrete Panels of different bays of stilling basin of Sardar Sarovar Dam.” In the meantime, letter dated Nov 20, 2013 from Chief Engr (Dam and Vadodara), SSNNL to secretary SSCAC says: “Regarding safety measures for Stilling Basin, memorandum is prepared for repairing of Stilling Basin and submitted to the DSP for heir guidance by the Superintending Engr, N P Designs (Dams & Power House) circle, Vadodara.. DSP meeting will be called as per the convenience of the DSP members.” So 30 months after NIO discovered damaged dam stilling basin, SSNNL has prepared memorandum for repair and six days before scheduled DSP meeting, they feign ignorance about the date of the meeting!
Dec 18, 2013: The minutes of the 107th meeting of PSC says: “The Committee directed GOG to give top priority for repair of stilling basin before coming monsoon and keep ready the embedded parts required for at least one working season.”
The minutes also note what GOG reported about the DSP meeting on Nov 25-26, 2013: “It has been suggested that dewatering of bay No 4 & 5 shall be carried out at first instance & then inspection of damaged portion will be done by the DSP members. After inspection by DSP members, remedial measures will be suggested… Representatives of GOG informed the Committee that the procedure for carrying out above works will be started after receiving the final report of 48th Dam Safety Panel Report.” Dam repairs are still waiting for the DSP report, dewatering and inspection by DSP members!
March 28, 2014: Agenda note of the 81st meeting of the SSCAC throw light on lack of interest by CWC in this whole affair: “… it was observed that there was no participation from CWC in DSP and on enquiry it was learnt that they did not give this priority as they are neither invitee nor member in the DSP.” The key words are that CWC “did not give” dam safety of SSP priority!
It is clear from the above sequence of events that serious damage was found in the stilling basin of Sardar Sarovar Dam by NIO in May 2011. Till March 2014 (34 months after damage was discovered) and till as we write this, there is still no news that the damage has been repaired, even as the monsoon of 2014 is about six weeks away. In fact it took Gujarat government 30 months just to organize the dam safety meeting. That too after pushing and prodding from several meetings of Permanent Standing Committee of SSCAC and also meetings and letters from statutory SSCAC itself. This for the costliest dam of India. A dam about which the Gujarat government and Gujarat politicians never tire of telling the world that it is Gujarat’s lifeline.
Why did the central government (Please note that SSCAC is a body under Union Water Resources Ministry and is chaired by Secretary, Union Ministry of Water Resources) not do anything beyond writing letters and changing words from necessary to urgent to immediate and yet not doing anything when none of these words were heeded to?
Why did the premier water resources agency of India, CWC, not bother to do anything about this situation and did not take interest in Dam Safety Panel? Can CWC even be entrusted with the task of dam safety?
Why did SSNNL employ a person as old as 90 years to head an important body like Dam Safety Panel? Why did it take no action even as the chairperson reported sick then passed away dead ? Why did it wait for the chairperson’s term to be over before appointing a new Panel, again headed by a former CWC chief?
Is the Dam Safety Panel of Sardar Sarovar Dam a retirement perk for CWC chiefs? If Gujarat government cannot take necessary steps for the safety of Sardar Sarovar Dam, its claimed lifeline, then is this Government capable of taking any serious responsibility? Will the officers responsible for this state of affairs both in Gujarat and the Centre be identified and held accountable?
There are too many questions like these for which there seem to be no easy answers.
* With South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People. Email id: firstname.lastname@example.org
 RT wall: Right Training wall
 Board of consultants (for canals)
 A depression just downstream of the dam, deep enough and so structured as to reduce the velocity or turbulence of the flow and also channelise the downstream flow. The stilling basin is in fact integral part of the dam and without a safe stilling basin, a safe would not exist since an eroded and damaged still basin can expose the foundation of the dam to damage.
6. Carried at: http://www.counterview.net/2014/04/despite-serious-issues-with-narmada-dam.html