It has been a month now since the river-bed power house (RBPH) — the main power house, consisting of six 200 MW hydro-electric turbines on the Narmada dam — stopped operating altogether, with top officials attributing this to the low monsoon rain.
The turbines were stopped so that the water could be conserved and supplied for drinking and irrigation purposes to Gujarat and Rajasthan, the two states covered under the canal network, as water released to operate these turbines goes “waste” as it flows into the sea.
Officials of the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited (SSNNL) said it was unusual for the 1,200-MW RBPH to stop function for such a long period at one stretch, adding that power generation from the RBPH may resume only after the Sarovar reservoir gets “fresh rain water”, which is yet to happen this year in the catchment areas in MP.
Water that the authorities plan to conserve for drinking and irrigation will largely benefit Gujarat, and partly Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. In terms of power generation, however, Madhya Pradesh loses out the most as under the agreement, the state gets 57% of total electricity generated from the dam.
Among two other beneficiary states, Gujarat and Maharashtra get 16% and 27% of total electricity, respectively. The RBPH consumes 36,000 cusec water, while the reservoir is currently receiving only 10,000 cusec from Madhya Pradesh.
Sources said it was likely that the neighbouring state was also storing water in anticipation of a poor monsoon. “Water from the Narmada passes through four dams, Tawa, Bagri, Omkareshwar and Indira Sagar, in MP, before it reaches the dam. Rain is poor, which is why the authorities there might be storing water in their dam before sending it here,” an official said.
From April 2004 till March 2014, the RBPH had produced 29,064.196 million units of power. The Narmada Control Authority issues daily scheduling on operation of the turbines on the dam. Since June 7, officials said, NCA has been directing SSNNL on a daily basis to not operate the major power-generating turbines.
In its vision document, NCA has stated that power generation from the RBPH is “dependent on water availability surplus to irrigation utilisation/share of the party states”, and has stated that “the RBPH would lose both capacity value and energy value in the ultimate stage of basin development and during dry years even in earlier stages”.
Authorities said they were playing the wait-and-watch game, even as water level in the dam rose steadily, which is currently standing at 114.66 metres. Officials said that a 110-metre water level is the minimum requirement to operate power turbines.
“Any drop in water level at this time, coupled with poor monsoon this year will affect water supply in Gujarat right until the next monsoon and even beyond, in the event that the monsoon next year also turns out to be poor,” an SSNNL official said, requesting anonymity.
“Poor monsoon is the main reason why NCA directed us to not operate the turbines, as water used for the purpose is released into the river that flows into the sea and is thus wasted. The mandate is to conserve water in the event the monsoon remains poor as predicted,” said chief engineer, SSNNL, U C Jain.
As per the India Meteorological Department data, the meteorological sub-divisions of Gujarat and Saurashtra have till July 6 received only 15.2 mm and 23.4 mm rainfall, which is 92% and 82% below normal, respectively. Similarly, western MP and eastern MP received 33.5 mm and 117.5 mm rainfall, which is 78% and 45% below normal, respectively.
“We are already staring at very poor rainfall this year. In such a scenario, we cannot afford to waste water to produce electricity, as the main purpose of the dam is to provide water for drinking and irrigation. Power generation is secondary,” Jain said.
The dam, with a total installed power capacity of 1,450 MW, has five other power generation turbines. With 50 MW capacity, called the canal-head power house, which is currently operating for a few hours everyday, water released for this purpose goes into the main canal that is used for drinking, irrigation, and industrial use.