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The Hindu on : Keyword is planning

Online edition of India's National Newspaper on
Tuesday, November 16, 1999

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Keyword is planning

THERE HAS been a spate of articles in the media on dams by Ms. Arundathi Roy, Ms. Gail Omvedt, Mr. L. C. Jain, Ms. Devaki Jain, Mr. Harish Khare and Mr. V. R. Krishna Iyer, linking them with atom bombs and other nuclear weapons, which are capable of destroying mankind. Most of their arguments are general in nature, except that of Ms. Omvedt. Ms. Arundathi Roy highlights the problems of the tribals and the villagers displaced by the construction of dams without going into the rootcause of the problem. These people can be compensated if the Government comes up with well-conceived rehabilitation measures such as provision of land and houses.

If one takes a look at the Survey of India top sheet maps on 1:50000 scale (little larger than the earlier one-inch-to-a-mile scale map of pre-1970 period) covering Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, one can notice tanks, big and small, occupying nearly 30 to 40 per cent of the space, storing water from every stream, rivulet and drainage, flowing during the monsoon season, providing drinking water to the villages and catering to minor irrigation. But none cried hoarse about them, because of the need for water for daily use. These were constructed before the early part of the twentieth century when there was no talk of environment and ecology; and the population of the country was only around 200 million.

In the early Thirties, the Krishnarajasagar dam across the Cauvery was conceived and built, thanks to the genius of Dr. M. Visveswarayya. A little later, the Mettur dam and the Pykara hydel reservoir were constructed at the instance of C. P. Ramaswamy Iyer. The Stanley reservoir enabled the Cauvery delta to become the granary of Tamil Nadu. Similarly, the Bhakra Nangal Dam in Punjab and the Koyna reservoir can be cited for the prosperity of these regions with a large supply of water for power and irrigation. There were no big agitations in these cases, since rehabilitation and relief measures were undertaken systematically and methodically.

The case of the Damodar Valley dam is relevant here. The scheme consisted of four dams across the Damodar and its tributaries. And four more to be taken up later and two barrages for irrigation and water supply. These have a total storage capacity of 2.9 million ac.ft and a flood control capability of 1.51 million ac.ft. with this a peak flow of 650,000 cusecs in the lower valley would be moderated to 250,000 cusecs.

In the Tennessee Valley of the U.S. on which the Damodar Valley Corporation development was modelled, nearly 20 dams were completed between 1933 and 1983. Here the dams encompass a watershed of 40,000 sq.miles with a storage for flood control in the order of 12 million acre feet. It affords flood protection to six million acres, with less frequency of floods to another four million acres. This system has 1080 km of navigation canals and generates power of 251 MW. This authority has vastly improved the communication and navigation facilities in the Tennessee Valley area providing for agricultural and industrial development, besides afforestation and protection of marginal lands in the vicinity.

This year, the rivers of North Bihar, the Gandak and the Kosi, played havoc in the area keeping it under water for more than a fortnight. Earlier, the Brahmaputra valley was inundated, because of the heavy rains in the catchment areas in July-August 1999. Similarly, the Surma valley in Bangladesh and the Cachar valley in Assam were ravaged in the monsoon.

What is the solution? With due apologies to Ms. Arundathi Roy and Ms. Medha Padkar, storage dam, big, medium and small, is the only answer. The embankments to contain the flood waters have proved to be inadequate since they raise the bedlevel of the streams and are not enough in the case of large floods. Spurs, groynes, diversion into side channels are all short-term measures which become ineffective during catastrophes. They have all been tried in vain in the Kosi, the Brahmaputra and the Barak valleys between 1950 and 1980.

For about one third of the cost of the damage, medium and high storage dams could have been planned, designed and constructed in the Kosi valley (with three dams on the high Himalayan ranges across the important tributaries as conceived by the FAO experts), along the smaller rivers in the Brahmaputra valley spanning the southern bank of the river system (such as Tirap, Namchik, Namrup, Noa Dihing, Burhi Dihing, Doyang, Kulsi, Dhansiri, etc.). Medium flood control composite dams can be built across the Barak, Longai, Rukni, Sonai and Dhaleswari rivers including one high structure at Tipaimukh. All these schemes are to be planned as basinwise development schemes, with concurrent afforestation and soil conservation measures. Such measures with an investment of Rs. 10,000 crores in the next 10 years would eliminate unemployment. Besides these structures would generate sufficient quantity of power.

Since all these projects would result in people losing their dwellings, there should be adequate measures in a planned manner for provision of land, houses and villages. In fact, it should be a house for house, land for land, village for village policy. Instead of leaving this to the local administration and revenue officials, there should be a separate department for rehabilitation and resettlement process.

Fish ladders should form part of the storage structure with a view to facilitating easy migration of fish from the reservoir to the deltaic region. This would prevent endangerment to any of the fish species in the command area.

Ms. Roy has let forth a large outcry against all dams without any distinction. The storage dams for hydroelectricity in the Pykara valley, the mountains of Kerala such as Idukki and Mattupatti besides the Umkhek dam in Meghalaya have been vital sources of power, yielding huge revenue to the States. With the large amount of water available in them perennially, wild animals and birds flourish therein.

Irrigation causes salinity and water-logging in the command area according to some of the environmentalists. This can be checked by modern methods such as tube irrigation and drip irrigation.


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