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Gujarat’s water woes may keep Narmada’s riverbed power house shut long term

The Madhya Pradesh government has termed the NCA’s approval of a request from the Gujarat government body SSNNL in April as a ‘unilateral’ and refused to share its surplus water with Gujarat in order to allow the Sardar Sarovar reservoir to be filled.

Written by Aditi Raja | Vadodara | Published: July 24, 2019 6:06:20 am
Drinking water and irrigation are priorities over hydro power generation as per the National Water Policy, the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd says. (Express photo by Bhupendra Rana)

The move by the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd (SSNNL) to seek a nod from the Narmada Control Authority to stop power generation in the Riverbed Powerhouse (RBPH) of the Sardar Sarovar dam in order to fill it to its Full Reservoir Level (FRL) of 138.63 meters — the height after the completion of construction and subsequent inauguration by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on September 17, 2017— has resulted in a war of words between Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat over the sharing of the Narmada river water. Madhya Pradesh has threatened to restrict the flow of water into the Sardar Sarovar dam located in Narmada district in Gujarat. The matter turned contentious when SSNNL requested the Narmada Control Authority in April this year to stop generation of electricity at the 1,200 MW Riverbed Power house (RBPH) in order to be able to fill the dam to its FRL to test the concrete structure of the dam to the full thrust capacity.

While Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath has indicated that the state will follow the NCA guidelines in letter and spirit — that it will give Gujarat only as much water as stipulated by NCA for the current water year unlike earlier times when it released more water, Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani has blamed the Congress government for playing politics over Narmada water, which is the lifeline of Gujarat.

There are two power houses for the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP), a 1,200 MW River Bed Power House and and a 250 MW Canal Head Power House. Power generated is shared among Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat in the ratio of 57:27:16 respectively. However while the Canal Head Power House releases water into the main canal of the dam after generation of power, the water used by the turbines of the RBPH is drained into the sea without being channeled for use. The RBPH has been shut down since June 2017. Gujarat has been facing a rain deficit for the past two water years of 2017 and 2018. While the Sardar Sarovar reservoir filled up to 130.75 metres in 2017, it reached just under 129 meters in 2018. Since the increase in its height to 138.63 meters and closure of gates, the reservoir has not been filled to its FRL level, thus, also making it impossible to test the dam’s thrust of full capacity. Engineers of the dam say that testing the reservoir to its full capacity is essential as the construction has lasted close to five decades with gaps of several years. Filling the reservoir is possible only when the RBPH is closed because the water used for generating hydro power cannot be reused.

The Madhya Pradesh government has raised an objection to the NCA’s consent to Gujarat to stop hydro power generation at the RBPH until the dam is filled to its FRL level, based on a letter written by SSNNL MD Rajeev Kumar Gupta to the NCA in April this year. The letter said, “Drinking water and irrigation are priorities over hydro power generation as per the National Water Policy. Therefore, it would be prudent to exercise this in the current water year in the overall interest of the party states.” Accordingly, SSNNL officials say that the NCA had convened a special inter-state meeting in April to discuss the issue and advised all states to do their bit for the purpose of filling the Sardar Sarovar reservoir to its FRL.

A senior official says, “The NCA of course understands that it is imperative that the Sardar Sarovar be tested to its FRL and has allowed closure of the RBPH till that time after this letter. But the fact is that the share of water Gujarat has been awarded — of 9 MAF (Million Acre Feet) in a normal water year — is also insufficient for Gujarat to generate power from the RBPH. The tribunal has also taken into consideration that in the long run, there may not be sufficient water to run the RBPH. That is because Gujarat is heavily dependent on Narmada for its drinking water and irrigation needs first.”

The official explains that in 1979, when the tribunal decided the shares of the respective states, it awarded more power share to MP and Maharashtra while Gujarat got the water. “In any case, MP has double the water share of Gujarat at any time. But they are never able to completely use their share because their canal and distribution networks are not complete. They use their water mainly for generating power at the Indira Sagar and Omkareshwar dams and then release that water to Gujarat. But if they say that they will not release surplus water out of some animosity, it does not help. Ultimately, they will have to release surplus water once their storage is full,” the official says.

The MP government has termed the NCA’s approval of a request from the Gujarat government body SSNNL in April as a ‘unilateral’ and refused to share its surplus water with Gujarat in order to allow the Sardar Sarovar reservoir to be filled.

The six turbine generators of the underground power house stationed on the right bank of the river located about 165 metres downstream of the Sardar Sarovar dam are of Francis-type reversible, each of 200 MW installed capacity. “However, the Garudeshwar Weir is still being constructed to store the water released after generation of power at the RBPH. Once the Weir is ready, the water can be stored in the Weir and pumped back using the reversible turbines during non peak hours of the grid because the power consumption per minute of reversing the water back from the Weir is more than the per unit generation capacity. It can, however, be done at a non peak time of the grid. The only way Gujarat can generate power only when all states come together to work towards the goal, as also directed by the NCA, without turning this into a political issue,” the official said.

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