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By Pramod Mellegatti
The Hirebhaskara Dam across the Sharavathy.
The 50-year-old dam stands upstream of the Linganamakki Reservoir the main feeder of the Sharavathy Hydel Project in Sagar Taluk of Shimoga District. Considered as an engineering marvel, it was conceived in the early 1930s by the erstwhile Princely State of Mysore's Public Works Department to use the perennial water source of the Sharavathy to generate hydel power.
As the first phase of the Sharavathy Valley Hydroelectric Project, the construction of the dam was started in 1939, at a place known as Hirebhaskara, about 24 km. upstream of the famous Jog Falls. The construction of the dam was supervised by Ganesh Iyer, a civil engineer from the Old Mysore Region who had the expertise and the experience of supervising construction of structures based on the siphon system in places such as Mandya and Markonahalli in Tumkur District. The success of his earlier projects encouraged him to accept the responsibility of supervising the construction of the Hirebhaskara Dam. The dam was built with 11 siphons, each 18 ft across and 58 ft high, to control floods. The siphon system introduced by Ganesh Iyer became so popular that it came to be known as the "Ganesh Iyer Siphon System" and the man also got a patent for it. The mechanism of the siphon system in the dam enabled water to be flushed out of the reservoir automatically when it touched the optimum level. The main purpose for constructing the Hirebhaskara Dam was to ensure steady water supply to the Mahatma Gandhi Hydroelectric Project. This power station has an installed capacity of 120 MW. It has eight generating units four of 18-MW capacity and four of 12-MW capacity. The old power station still operates, though not to its full capacity. The construction of the Mahatma Gandhi Hydroelectric Project, which was started after the construction of the Hirebhaskara Dam, was not an easy task because of the difficult terrain and the lack of infrastructure. Nearly 9,000 workers, mostly from Mandya and Malavalli, were engaged in the project and, in the absence of modern facilities, they faced enormous difficulties.
The formal inauguration of the Mahatma Gandhi Hydroelectric Project and the Hirebhaskara Dam, scheduled for February 2, 1949, was postponed because of Mahatma Gandhi's assassination on January 30, 1948. It finally took place on February 21, 1949, after the national mourning was over.
The power station, which was earlier named Krishnarajendra Wadiyar Hydroelectric Project, was rechristened Mahatma Gandhi Hydroelectric Project. The two trolleys that connect Jog township and the power station located in the Sharavathy Valley were named "Ram" and "Rahim" two names close to the Mahatma's heart.
The Hirebhaskara Dam lost importance after the Linganamakki Dam was built with a higher storage capacity to feed not only the Mahatma Gandhi Hydroelectric Project but also the Sharavathy Hydel Project.
When the Hirebhaskara Dam was completed, it could use hardly 20 per cent of the Sharavathy's water for power generation.
The Linganamakki Reservoir, which was completed in the early 60s, became the main water source for the Mahatma Gandhi Hydroelectric Project and later for the Sharavathy Hydel Project. It also led to the submersion of the Hirebhaskara Dam. Since then, the Hirebhaskara Dam has merely stood as a monument that is visible only when the water in the Sharavathy reaches rock bottom in summer.
The fact that the mortar structure of the dam is still intact even after being under water for nearly 50 years is a tribute to the engineering skill of the technicians and labourers who worked hard to create this unique project amid crippling constraints.
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