Amicus curiae flags sudden discharge from dams, lack of forecasting for Kerala floods

All 79 Kerala dams were geared up for power generation, irrigation; not controlling flood: report

By Rejimon Kuttappan
Published: Thursday 04 April 2019

Photo: WikipediaHigh storage levels in dams in the first week of August 2018, coupled with sudden discharge from them during August 15-17, the absence of a proper flood-forecasting system, reduced storage capacity of dams due to siltation, etc may have aggravated the 2018 floods, according to the amicus curiae appointed by the High Court of Kerala.

All 79 dams in the state were maintained with the objective to generate hydroelectricity or irrigation and controlling flood wasn’t their purpose, amicus curiae Jacob P Alex’s report highlighted.

The report advocated a detailed study to examine whether these factors worsened the flood situation and suggested that an independent expert panel, led by a retired judge and comprising renowned experts in hydrology, dam management, etc, be constituted.

About 500 people died in the flood, which was the most severe the southern state has seen in nearly a century. The United Nations pegged the total loss caused by the flood at Rs 31,000 crore. It led to crop losses of over Rs 3,500 crore, according to the 2018 Kerala Economic Review report.

In September 2018 itself, Down To Earth first reported that Not one dam in Kerala was inspected before monsoon.

Two post-monsoon inspections were undertaken in 2015, five in 2016, four in 2017 and four in 2018, the Central Water Commission earlier said in reply to a query under Right To Information filed by the DTE reporter. According to its records, two dams underwent pre-monsoon inspections in 2015, four in 2016, four in 2017 and none in 2018.

The commission did not disclose the names of the dams inspected though. It also did not have a report on whether any dam was critical.

Alex was appointed amicus curiae by the High Court to assist in deciding a batch of petitions alleging the floods were a man-made disaster caused by the sudden release of water from reservoirs without proper precaution.

His 49-page report observed that dam management in Kerala did not follow the National Water Policy and Guidelines of National Disaster Management Authority on flood control.

“The major concern of the dam operators was to maximise reservoir levels, which conflicted with the flood control purpose for which the dams could be utilised. The 'flood cushion' of reservoirs — the storage space earmarked in dams to absorb unanticipated high flows — needed review as per the latest guidelines,” Alex wrote in his report.

It added that it appears that dams in Kerala had not maintained an effective flood control zone and the flood cushion said to have maintained is not as mandated by the BIS Report, RTIOR (Real Time Integrated Operation of Reservoirs) and the operation and maintenance manual.

Other preliminary observations are:

  • Emergency Action Plan (EAP) for dams has not been formulated in the State
  • Warning alerts (Blue/Orange/Red) were not issued as per EAP guidelines
  • No proper follow-up action or precautionary steps (especially for evacuating people and accommodating people in safe locations) were taken after issuance of Red Alert.

The amicus also suggested that decision regarding the release of water should be taken by specialised agencies like Dam Safety Authority or Disaster Management Authority.

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