Making Dams Safer: Investing in Dam Safety
As the SSD project stands completed after 56 years of its inception, perhaps it is time for a little introspection. We should introspect on how to make the SSD resilient to the various climate and disaster risks so that the gains that it delivers to the people are safeguarded. What is needed is a framework to reduce disaster risks faced by SSD. Under the leadership of NCA, GSDMA, and NDMA, the SSD can become India's first SFDRR compliant dam.
One of India's largest hydro development projects, the Narmada Dam in Gujarat, has received the final clearance from the Narmada Control Authority (NCA) giving a go ahead to the Gujarat government to close the Sardar Sarovar Dam (SSD) gates on the Narmada river. This marks the completion of the project, almost 56 years after the dam's foundation was laid by the then Prime Minister in 1961. Perhaps it is time to think of the various ways of reducing the risk of extreme events like earthquakes, droughts or floods on projects such as the SSD.
These risk reduction activities can be led by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) which plays the key role in guiding national investments for disaster risk reduction (DRR) activities across India. Similarly, this effort can also be complemented by the Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority (GSDMA) which builds the resilience of the citizens of Gujarat to the various disaster risks faced by them. The NCA permitted increasing the dam's height by lowering of 30 sluice gates and impounding of water in the reservoir upto its Full Reservoir Level (FRL) of EL 138.68 metres.
The latest move by NCA will lead to completion of the project and will result in an increase in the dam's storage capacity from 1565 million cubic metres (MCM) to 5740 MCM and also lead to a rise in hydro power generation from current 1300 MW to 1450 MW.
The water audit (use for agriculture, industrial and domestic purposes) can provide useful findings for future risk reduction actions for the National Water Development Agency (NWDA) and other water institutions.
About one crore people would get assured drinking water and irrigation facilities. The SSD would primarily meet the water requirement of drought prone and desert areas of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. In some ways SSD is one of the biggest anti-drought and anti-desertification measures in India.
The time has come to protect SSD, the life line of Gujarat, from all kinds of disaster risks, including that of floods and earthquakes by considering the recommendations of the national authorities and the Sendai Framework.
The Resettlement and Rehabilitation sub-group chaired by the Union Secretary of Social Justice & Empowerment had also reviewed the rehabilitation and resettlement of project affected families as per the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal (NWDT) Award and the Supreme Court order was delivered in February 2017. The next step is to build the resilience of these families to the disaster risks they face.
Dam Safety Measures in India
Close to 80% of India's 5,198 large dams are over 25 years old and are confronted with safety challenges. Many experts believe that the wear and tear along with the sub-par maintenance of these dams is jeopardizing their safety. The most worrying are those dams that lie in high seismic zones and can be destroyed by medium to high intensity earthquakes. In this context, it is essential to review the safety measures and policies in place to protect the big dams and economic growth of India.
The Central Water Commission (CWC), which is the apex organisation for water resources management, in 2006, asked the states to come up with an emergency action plan for large dams and laid down guidelines for that purpose.
Needless to say disaster preparedness needs to be an integral part of these safety measures to prevent any mishaps. Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation with the financial support from the World Bank has embarked upon a six year Dam Safety Rehabilitation and Improvement Project (DRIP) in the year 2012.