India’s old dams: Gandhi Sagar in MP needs immediate repair, says CAG report

A breach in the dam could affect millions of lives and damage property
India’s old dams: Gandhi Sagar in MP needs immediate repair, says CAG report

Gandhi Sagar Dam on Chambal River in Madhya Pradesh is in need of immediate repair, warned a new report. It is one of the five water reservoirs of national importance. 

Absence of regular checks, non-functional instruments and choked drains are the major problems plaguing the dam for years, the report by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) released December 23, 2021.  

Gandhi Sagar Dam was constructed in 1960 to provide drinking water to several districts of Rajasthan and generate 115 megawatts of electricity. It has been breached several times in recent years, causing flooding in downstream areas, showed reports. 

Three districts in the state — Sheopur, Morena and Bhind, with an approximate collective population of 4.35 million (as per the 2011 Census) — lie downstream the dam.

Gandhi Sagar was put in Category II of the dam inspection report. 

Dams with major deficiencies, which may lead to complete failure / partial failure and need attention at once, fall under Category I. Those with minor to medium deficiencies, which are rectifiable but need immediate attention fall under Category II.

The CAG report mentioned there is one dam in Category I but didn’t name it. As many as 27 other smaller dams of MP were in Category II, according to the analysis. 

The state dam safety organisation (SDSO), the department responsible for its maintenance, did not comply with recommendations by the Central Water Commission (CWC) and Dam Safety Inspection Pane (DSIP) on remedial measures, according to the paper. 

The dam is “still under extreme threat during the rainy season”, despite warnings and recommendations, the report pointed out. “Given the fact that millions of people stay in the downstream area of the dam, any breach / overtopping of the dam can have disastrous consequences.”

On September 15, 2019, the dam released 500,000 cusecs of water per second following heavy rainfall in the state that caused an inflow of 1.6 million cusecs per second, according to a 2019 report by South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP), a network of independent water research organisations. “This led to overtopping in other dams in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.”

The incident took place because the gates of the dam were not opened on time since 2016, said Himanshu Thakkar, coordinator, SANDRP. 

Both the inspection galleries and the powerhouse were completely inundated / filled with water in September 2016 because of operational problems at the dam, the CAG report stated. 

Thakkar added: 

Dam safety has been in a bad shape. So, these problems prevail and have come out in the report. They can result in two kinds of disasters: One, when the structure fails, and second when the operation is not proper. Both can cause disasters in the downstream area. 

Non-compliance of recommendations make the inspections merely a routine exercise with no consequential benefit, the CAG report said.

There was also a breach in Ledi dam — a small reservoir under Gandhi Sagar in Mandsaur in 2018 — because of a lack of pre- and post-monsoon inspections from 2016 to 2018.

Gandhi Sagar Dam was among the few of national importance to be instrumented but many of the instruments have been non-functional for years, the CAG report observed. 

The instruments installed in the Gandhi Sagar dam had not been providing readings since 1994, the report mentioned based on findings of a 2008 DSIP report. 

In 2016, a CWC instrumentation team reported a number of deficiencies like choking of uplift pressure and drainage hole in the gallery to non-functional piezometer, switch board and plumb line, according to CAG. 

CWC had advised for the revival of the failed instruments five years ago. The body had suggested equipping the dam with more instruments like joint meter, strong Motion Accelerograph on top of the dam for checking ground shaking due to earthquake along with six survey targets.

Rs 1.35 crore was sanctioned to carry out the advised instrumentation and repair in July 2019. But the department did not initiate the revival of instruments or cleaning of drains even by 2019.

“Even for a dam of national importance like Gandhi Sagar dam, necessary repairs for instruments were not carried out and new instruments were not purchased even after three years of the report of CWC (January 2020),” the latest CAG report mentioned. 

Apart from Gandhi Sagar, there are 4,523 (906 large and 3,617 small) dams in Madhya Pradesh, according to the report. But the SDSO had inspected only 510 dams in 16 districts from 2016-17 to 2018-19.

As many as 73 of the inspected dams had structural and instrumentation problems, SDSO reported. 

Indian dams are very old and built according to the rainfall pattern of the past decades, said Bharat Gosavi, retired chief engineer of BODHI Water Resources Department of Bhopal. Erratic rainfall in recent years has left them vulnerable, because of which these problems are happening, he added. 

There are no measures to deal with changing rainfall patterns, the expert noted. “But the government is equipping the dams with information systems like rainfall alerts, flood alerts, and preparing emergency action plans to avoid all sorts of mishaps.”

The Dam Safety Act 2021 passed in the Rajya Sabha with much fanfare earlier this month doesn’t elicit much hope, said Thakkar. 

“The whole idea is to have independent voices. But the act will be implemented by current authorities,” he added. So, essentially the idea of accountability being fixed to change the scenario will hardly be addressed, the expert believed. The act, thus, will not really be of much help, according to Thakkar. 

Gulshan Raj, chief engineer of CWC, believes that the Dam Safety Act will ensure state governments act on their recommendations.

“The Gandhi Sagar Dam falls under the water resources department of Madhya Pradesh. All the CWC can do is provide recommendations to the state government to fix the problems. But we cannot force them to follow the advice,” he told Down to Earth.

DTE reached out to KG Singh, chief engineer of Gandhi Sagar Dam. He refused to comment on the issue.

SN Mishra, additional chief secretary of Water Resource Department of MP, also refrained from commenting on the matter because he was yet to read the report and because the dam is an inter-state project the state shares with Rajasthan.

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