The Water Resources Department of Odisha has decided to cut down on hydro power production from Hirakud reservoir from July 01. Poor rainfall in the catchment of Hirakud reservoir has resulted in depletion of water level in Hirakud reservoir. As on July 4 the water level in Hirakud reservoir was 596.47 feet. The dead storage level of the reservoir is 595 feet. Apprehending that water level will go below 595 if power production continues, Odisha Hydro Power Corporation has instructed its unit in Burla Power house (Hirakud) to cut down power production to only 30 MW.
The present production capacity of Hirakud is 220.5 MW at Burla power house and and 72 MW at Chiplima where the tail race water from Burla power house is led through a channel and power is generated. So against a capacity of 292.5 MWs only 30 MW of power is being generated throwing Odisha into a power crisis. Though the weather has cooled down a bit due to a few spells of rain, and over all power demand has reduced, still there are power cuts in different parts of the state thanks to the deficit monsoon and skewed policy of the state.
The power production has been reduced primarily to continue supplying water to the industries around Hirakud. The Government has committed 604 cusec of water to 18 industries around Hirakud. As per the information provided by Hirakud Main Dam Circle, at present 168 cusec of water is being provided to the industries. If the water level of Hirakud goes below the dead storage level the industries can no longer draw water from the reservoir (But this is a official position. In earlier instances too while the water level has gone below the dead storage level 595, the industries have drawn water from the reservoir by deepening their collection wells and endangering the safety of the dam).
Apprehending this situation the government has decided to continue supplying water to the industries at the cost of power generation. If Burla power house operates to its full capacity, it will need 30, 000 cusec of water per day, and that also will take care of full capacity utilization at Chiplima.
This step of the State government seems to be an innocuous act to use the available water of Hirakud prudently. But, looked closer it reveals a major policy violation and heavy loss to the state exchequer. As per the Odisha State Water Policy 2007 the water allocation priorities are in the order of Drinking Water, Ecology, irrigation and fisheries, Hydro power generation and then Industries. By reducing hydropower generation to provide water to the industries the state government has violated its own policy.
While hydropower is 4th in the priority list, industry only comes next in the 5th position. And one more thing- the State government had declared in the Water Policy 2007 that "any alteration in the above mentioned priorities will demand for a new policy". That means that the State was quite serious about the sanctity of these priorities. But, still the State government has violated its own policy to cater to the thirst of the industries.
It is not the first time that the state or the Hirakud Dam authorities have gone beyond their brief to favor the industries. Flood of 2009 proved the point beyond doubt. The rule curve of 1988 was violated with impunity from about 20th of July to about 5th of August and much more water was stored in the reservoir than the prescribed upper limit of storage that led to a very difficult situation in moderating flood downstream of Hirakud. The same thing was repeated in the year 2011.
Ideally the reservoir is to be kept as empty as far as possible to create the space to accommodate flood water. But, the dam authorities had filled up the dam substantially to cater to water demands of the industries. No doubt, management of Hirakud reservoir water level is an unenviable task as it has to strike a balance between the competing demand of flood control, power production and irrigation.
While the former warrants the reservoir should be as empty as possible, the latter two warrant that the reservoir should be filled to the brink. Entry of the industries has further complicated the situation further. But what has been a reason for concern for the other stakeholders like the farmers in Sambalpur and Bargarh district, people in the deltaic Odisha and electricity consumers of Odisha is that for the government the industries have been the most pampered one and at different points the State has favored the industries. This time too while the government has been prompt in cutting down the power supply, it has not been really concerned for the farmers in the delta region as well as for the Hirakud command area.
The water used for power generation is used in the delta region of the river basin to irrigated 303,000 hectare during the Khariff season. Now that the power production has been reduced substantially the flow of water in the river Mahanadi also has reduced. But again the farmers will not have a share in this water as the water sharks are sitting around Naraj and Mundali barrage to siphon off the water to the industries. For the coastal region too it is a deficit rainfall situation and they badly want the canal water for their water starved fields.
In western Odisha the monsoon has yielded just about half the rain fall, that it should have by this time of the year, the farmers of the command area certainly need water for their crops. But one wonders if at all there will be any water left in the reservoir to release after quenching the thirst of the industries around Hirakud reservoir.
Those old farmers who had sacrificed for the nation and their brethren to illuminate the houses of Odias, irrigation for the farmers in the western Odisha as well as the delta must be turning in their graves wondering the meaning of sacrifice for national interest. And those alive must be nursing their sense of hurt that they were simply taken for a ride in the name of national interest or may be wondering if national interest is anonymous with industrial interest.