Calcutta, Oct. 17: The Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC) had not only alerted officials in Bengal to the possibility of releasing water from two dams four days in advance but also waited until the danger mark was crossed by four feet, a senior official of the central PSU has told The Telegraph.
“The claim of the state government that it was not informed regarding the release of excess water is incorrect. The state authorities were informed on October 10 that a forecast of heavy rain in Jharkhand and excess water in the Damodar and Barakar rivers could force us to release water from our dams,” said Samir Maji, manager, reservoir operations, DVC.
The DVC had released water from two of its dams in Panchet and Maithan on October 14. Bengal had held the DVC and the Jharkhand government responsible for the floods in parts of West and East Midnapore, Hooghly and Howrah that have affected more than 10 lakh people.
Explaining the procedure for releasing water, Maji said that the DVC Reservoir Regulatory Committee was tracking the situation and followed the norms before releasing water. The committee is made up by representatives from the Central Water Commission (CWC), DVC and the Bengal and Jharkhand governments.
According to him, as soon as the CWC directed DVC authorities on October 10 that water had to be released in view of the heavy rain forecast, district officials, including the DM and SDO of West and East Midnapore, Hooghly and Howrah, were informed.
Disaster management protocol suggests that after being informed of the release of excess water, the state government should have alerted people in the region to the possibility of inundation and carried out evacuation if needed.
But senior state government officials said the DVC should have sent prior information to the government on the volume of water it was set to release. “If we don’t get to know what volume of water will be released, we cannot prepare ourselves,” said a senior official.
“This apart, we could have arranged relief materials for the affected in advance. But as we did not know how much water would be released, we could not calculate how many people might be affected and the areas which would get inundated.”
DVC officials said that during their interaction with the state government, they had followed the norms of the Central Water Commission, which decides on the release of water from all dams based on rain forecasts.
“We have to act according to the CWC guidelines and this has always been the practice,” Maji said.
The DVC official said that releasing water was the only option to ensure the safety of the dam. “The safe limit for the water level at Panchet dam is 425 feet. But on October 14, the water level was at least four feet higher at 429 feet. We had to release water to avoid damage to the dam,” Maji said.
He said that a bulk of the water had come down from the Tenughat dam upriver on the Damodar, forcing the DVC to release more water from Panchet. The Tenughat dam is operated by the Jharkhand government-controlled Tenughat Vidyut Nigam Ltd.
But Rajib Banerjee, Bengal irrigation minister, and Subrata Mukherjee, the state panchayat minister, iterated that the government came to know about the additional release of water only after water was released from the dams on October 14.
Sources said DVC chairman R.N. Sen was likely to address the issue during a proposed meeting with Mamata Banerjee on Monday.
The Bengal government and the DVC also differ on the volume of water released from the dams. For instance, the DVC claimed that it had released 1.15 lakh cusecs from its dams on October 14. But the state government claimed that the DVC had released 1.63 lakh cusecs that day.
“We could have handled the situation better had the DVC released up to 1 lakh cusecs but it released 1.63 lakh cusecs. This caused the damage actually,” said Banerjee, the irrigation minister.
Water released by the DVC has to pass through the Durgapur barrage, where the state government gets a chance to measure the volume of water released by the central power utility.
“A discrepancy may arise because there is a distance of 50km between the Panchet dam and the Durgapur barrage. The volume of water released by the DVC is bound to swell by the time it reaches the Durgapur barrage because of rain,” said a DVC source.