Union Minister for Water Resources Pawan Kumar Bansal [ Images ] claimed on Thursday that the Bhakra dam's water level is safe and there is nothing to worry. The minister was reacting to the allegations of some experts that the situation of Bhakra dam is precarious and that it could have been avoided. He denied the charges to rediff.com.
Himanshu Thakkar, India's [ Images ] eminent water expert and founder of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People, has claimed, "An analysis of the Bhakra Beas Management Board reservoirs for the last one year shows that if the reservoirs were operated keeping in mind the developing situation (of below normal rain), this precarious situation could have been avoided and lakhs of farmers and people all over north-west India may not have to suffer."
The precariously low water levels at the BBMB dams namely; Bhakra on the Sutlej River, Pong on the Beas River and Thein on the Ravi River, has lead the BBMB to declare that if there are no rains soon, an urgent meeting of states concerned will have to be called to consider emergency measures.
Thakkar says, "This, when summer in north-west India has already been rather long, hot and dry and when the monsoon has been giving all the signs of some serious deficit behaviour already and when the India Meteorological Department has also said that north-west India may have the worst deficit of all regions of India. But it seems the BBMB did not read these early signals and allowed the reservoirs to be depleted, did not take measures to build up the levels that it could have had. The ad-hoc, unresponsive and unaccountable reservoir operations, thus has lead to a situation which could have been avoided."
However, Bansal denies the charges. He said, "Normally, the Bhakra dam starts filling up by May 21 but this time it got delayed. We have been monitoring it. Currently water levels are at 1,539 feet while the minimum level has to be 1,462 feet. So, it is still above the minimum requirement."
Today, the water level in Bhakra and Pong dams was around 60 feet lower than what it was at the same time last year. The water level in Bhakra dam was recorded at 1,539 feet as against 1,600 feet on the same day in 2011. The water level at Pong dam was 1289.30 feet as against 1,351.38 feet in 2011.
Thakkar says, "The lower water level now is not due to any deficit in the last monsoon. So when did the depletion in water storage in these reservoirs happen? It seems the situation was comfortable in these reservoirs till early February, when Bhakra had 58 percent (64 percent storage previous year), Pong had 53 percent (63 percent last year) and Thein had 35 percent (41 percent last year)."
He further says, "Over the next two months, the water storage in the three reservoirs reduced by 33 percent (Bhakra), 23 percent (Pong) and 16 percent (Thein), when in previous year, the depletion in the same period was much lower at 25 percent, 14 percent and 6 percent for Bhakra, Pong and Thein respectively. So the three reservoirs lost 8-10 percent extra water in these two months. Now in February and March the residual rabi crop irrigation should not have been much higher than the previous year. And post rabi, in summer season, irrigation should anyway be discouraged and dis-incentivised."
Punjab [ Images ] and Haryana has actually passed acts that say that before June 10 and 15 respectively, no paddy transplantation should be allowed. Thakkar says, "So this extra depletion in February and March seems to be the first important issue that has lead to current situation. It is a bit of mystery as to why this happened, only BBMB officials can help unravel this."
Thakkar makes serious allegations against the management of the BBMB. He says, "This is not the first time that farmers and people in north-west India will suffer due to ad-hoc, unaccountable and not-so-responsive reservoir operation by BBMB. A similar situation prevailed in a number of years including 2004 and 2009. Had the BBMB's reservoir operation been more responsive to the developing situation, the situation at the BBMB reservoirs need not have been so critical now. India has no transparent, participatory and accountable reservoir operation policy."