Friday, August 12th, 2022 06:23:48

Flood Fury In Odisha

Updated: October 1, 2011 12:22 pm

Despite tall claims of institutionalisation of disaster management and flood control measurers Odisha witnessed a severe flood in Mahanadi system, the largest river in the state, during the last week which has affected 2.2 million people spread over 19 districts. This flood has caused death of 20 persons, 11 persons have been swept away, 24,000 families rendered homeless, and crop damage is reported over 1, 48,000 hectares of land. So far 50,000 people have been taken to safer places and close to 1,50,000 people taken to temporary shelters, out of 3,505 affected villages spread over 93 Blocks and 866 Gram Panchayats. 1109 villages are still marooned and remain cut off.

The situation in four districts of Mahanadi delta Kendrapara, Jagatsinghpur, Cuttack and Puri is still grim and so in Sonepur in the lower catchment and the river basin. Even state Capital Bhubaneswar has not been spared. Few apartments and villages near Daya River Bridge have been affected and people were rescued to the nearest buildings.

Despite efforts by government and non-government agencies people had to spent sleepless nights in temporary or makeshift shelters and rooftops for a couple of days together without food, drinking water and medicine. Air dropping of cooked and dry food started three days after the flood waters entered the villages. Children and women were the worst sufferers. Reports of cold fever and the water-borne diseases have started coming in.

Though, flood waters have started receding in many areas, because of the full moon on 12th September and due to strong tidal waves and swelling sea water discharge to the Bay of Bengal was tardy. The situation further worsened following temporary breaches over river embankments in at least 48 places (35 in Mahanadi, 10 in Brahmani and 3 in Baitarani) for which new areas came in the grip of floods. Many of the deployed 911 boats and rescue teams could not reach to people in time.

A number of villages in Kanas, Satyabadi, GOP and Nimapara areas of Puri district, Marsaghai, Mahakalpada of Kendrapara, Kujanga and Tirtola area of Jagatsinghpur and Banki of Cuttack and Sonepur district headquarters are still water logged.

The focus has now been shifted to restore roads and communication facilities, ensuring relief works and providing health facilities.

Though the recent flood in Odisha caused due to releasing of flood waters from Hirakud reservoir by opening its spillway gates from 6th September—initially 10 gates were opened when the storage was 625.60ft then 59 gates on 9th and 10th September which played havoc in Sambalpur, Sonepur and Boudh besides Mahandi delta in Cuttack, Jagatsinghpur and Kendrapara. But most surprisingly it also had devastat effects in Bargarh and Jharsuguda non-flood prone areas in upstream. Generally excessive rain in Chhattisgarh and resultant inflow of water is blamed for overflowing of Hirakud but major rivers and tributaries like Tel, IB and Bhedan rivers also contributed substantially to Mahandi floods.

While speaking to this correspondent Pranab Chaudhury of Forum for Policy Dialogue on Water Conflicts in India, said, “Not only rivers and tributaries in lower catchment of Hirakud contributed to floods, government’s embankment management policy in deltaic region also responsible for this. On the plea of preparedness and repair government is draining money, in 2002 where the total relief caused was Rs 1200-1300 crore for repair of embankment government had spent at least 30 crore more in the same year then what was the need?”

All this happened following the continuous unprecedented rain and flash floods in upper stream of Mahandi River and catchment area Hirakud Dam in Chhattisgarh. “The present situation is largely due to mismanagement of Hirakud storage facilities”, says an expert.

Just a fortnight ago drought engulfed almost fifty per cent of the state and the news of farmers’ suicide were much in the news headlines. Apart from these, People of Western Odisha were up in arms over a hydro-power project proposed near Sindhol village in Sonepur district. Though this plant was planned ostensibly to augment the energy needs of the state in reality people in Western Odisha put up a brave face on the project, which refrained the government from retrieveing decision for time being. For them it was a conspiracy to facilitate another Hirakud like big dam for which they have been suffering since 1950s. Of which, both ruling and opposition parties were making charges and counter charges in the monsoon session of the state assembly held during 17th to 27th August blaming each other for the unrest in Western Odisha.

Hirakud Dam known as the largest earthen built dam in Asia with 25.8 km length and build up area of 743 square km was constructed with an estimated sum of Rs 100.02 crore foundation stone of which was laid on March 15, 1946 and was dedicated to nation by first Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru on January 13, 1957 with an objective of flood control in Mahanadi Basin besides other priorities like power generation and irrigation etc. It took at least 10 years to build the dam.

“Another aspect of the recent flood in Odisha is—among our engineering fraternity there is a bias for large dams and large irrigation projects. That may be a reason why our political administration is trying to shift its blame onto some engineers,” says Tapan Padhi of Odisha Water Forum (OWF). “While we had capacity of releasing 17 lakh cusec of water then, how 13 lakh cusec of water caused overflowing, leakages and breaches?” he further.

According to Bimal Prasad Pandia, a water policy analyst, “After just three years of the rigged flood in 2008, we are again forced to suffer a flood this year. Like the 2008 flood, this flood too is an outcome of complete neglect to Hirakud dam safety, a grossly flawed dam management policy, a dreadful ‘Rule Curve’ and a senseless ignorance to rain forecasts.” Mr Pandia further added, “There is another similarity to the 2008 flood. Both floods occurred in September and while rain started pouring, the dam had a water level beyond 625 ft. During both times when rain occurred in the down-streams of Hirakud, the gates were shut. Further water accumulated in the Hirakud reservoir. When rainfall gradually moved west-wards, into the catchments of the reservoir, the reservoir was already exhausting all its water holding capacity. Both times, the dam gravely played with the safety of the dam and released water in desperation. Both time the department tried to convince us that it only followed the ‘Rule Curve’. But we fail to be convinced on both occasions. I suspect the figures and statistics relating to dam water level, inflow and discharge. First hand information cannot go wrong. And such information clearly indicates that the discharge is definitely more than what is being told dam. The government owes us an explanation.”

      “59 out of the 64 spillway gates of the dam have been opened to release 9, 74,373 cusecs of water. 10, 37,000 cusec of water is entering into the reservoir. Almost all the districts downstream have been hugely impacted by this. In districts like Sambalpur, areas which had not seen floods even in 2008 have been inundated with flood waters. The dam management authority kept watching for this situation to come even as the water in the reservoir kept increasing steadily from July 20”, alleges Ranjan Panda of Water Initiatives Odisha.

Mr Panda, added: “Now the government puts the responsibility of the flood on the heavy rain at the upper catchment and release of water from Chhattisgarh. However, daily and weekly predictions by the IMD were continuously warning of heavy spells. It proves that the dam management authority has not been following a co-ordinate approach with Chhattisgarh and IMD. We at WIO have demanded that the government of Odisha establishes proper communication and clearly defined co-ordinate action with Chhattisgarh on management and planning of Mahanadi river. The government must, without any further delay, enter into a legally binding ‘water management and basin planning treaty’ that will help in management of Mahanadi water throughout the year.”

Further, Odisha Water Forum and Baitarani Initiative has tried to analyse the ‘Rule Curve’-based reservoir operation of Hirakud to see whether the violations in rule curve prescriptions add to flood severity and woes, or the ‘Rule Curve’ itself needs modification with changing circumstances and situations in the dam’s catchment and the reservoir capacity. Based on a rapid analysis of rainfall, runoff, siltation, reservoir level data over about 50 years (1957-2009) and this flood’s daily observations along with post-Hirakud water-resources development trends in Chhattisgarh, which contributes to 85 per cent of dam’s catchment, there is a need to revisit the ‘Rule Curve’ developed in 1988 to make it more adaptive to changing climatic and development context and also the need of exploring a formal arrangement with Chhattisgarh over management of water and water information on Mahanadi basin.

By Sudarshan Chhotoray From Bhubaneswar

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