Andhra Pradesh

Wake-up call for O&M

The Annamayya project on Cheyyeru, a tributary of the Penna, has turned out to be the sorrow of many villages in Rajampet mandal of Kadapa district as its bund breach due to heavy rains in November led to severe flooding and destruction. The entire project vanished in the midnight tragedy that left 29 dead and 20 are still missing. The situation is no better at some other projects in the State and the state of affairs in the Water Resources Department doesn’t seem to inspire much confidence on their proper maintenance.

While the YSRCP-led State government blamed the failure of the previous (TDP) government in strengthening the Annamayya project for the bund breach, the Opposition accused the government of miserably failing to handle the situation. The opposition party also countered the government’s ‘nature’s fury’ argument, alleging it’s a ‘man-made’ fury as the flood water was not discharged to save the sand banks.

However, a look at the maintenance aspects of the projects, particularly the medium and minor irrigation projects, shows that the successive governments have hardly paid any attention. The governments have not been focussing on the operation and maintenance (O&M) and repairs of the existing projects which may pose a serious danger to the major dams.

Suffered neglect

While some projects have staff but lack O&M funds, the Srisailam project has neither. Meagre allocations for O&M, inadequate staff and lack of equipment are some of the reasons for the dire state of affairs. Flood mitigation plans and contingency plans have either remained on paper or been ‘limited to formal meetings’.

According to information, there are 85 completed projects/reservoirs in the State with a total capacity of 122.79 tmcft and the governments have hardly taken care of their O&M. Another 27 projects with a capacity of 483.67 tmcft are under construction.

The allocations for O&M have come down to ₹30 crore in 2020-21 from ₹56.78 crore in 2014-15. Even these allocations were not optimally utilised as the maximum expenditure on O&M was ₹45 crore during the last six years. As a result, officials are taking up only ‘temporary restoration works’ as part of O&M.

“The O&M works are not being taken up on a priority basis. For instance, if there is a need for repair of the gates of a project, the focus is somewhere else,” says a senior official, who didn’t want to be quoted.

The mechanical engineers have to inspect the projects before the onset of monsoon and submit their reports to the Executive Engineers concerned, which has not happened in the past few years. At many places, quality control checks were not done due to COVID-19 pandemic last year. The impact of ‘this gross negligence’ was evident in Kadapa. The Annamayya project, a medium irrigation scheme with a gross capacity of just 2.24 tmcft, could not hold water for long resulting in the breach. The gates of the project were damaged in the 2020 floods but have not been repaired in time. The gates could not be lifted when there were floods in November, the official points out.

Reports ignored

The Water Resources Department officials recall that the radial crest gate number 16 at the KL Rao Multi-Purpose Irrigation Project (Pulichintala) washed away in the early hours of August 5, 2021, following a massive discharge into the dam. The issues such as non-functioning of the gates and the need to construct a footbridge near the dam for inspection purposes were brought to the notice of the government many times but in vain. Likewise, the gates did not function at the Erra Kaluva reservoir in West Godavari district, which resulted in near inundation of five villages some three years ago.

“There was a problem with the gates. The government did not respond to the reports regarding these projects. The situation is no better with regard to the other projects in the State.” official sources say.

Rayalaseema Saguneeti Sadhana Samithi president Bojja Dasaratha Rami Reddy says that there is a system failure. There are many reasons for the recent havoc like encroachment of tanks, improper implementation of the programmes and poor response to cyclone and flood warnings. There are no tanks to act as a cushion for floods. The projects are not being maintained as per the laid down norms and procedures, he says.

The flood control funds, which are primarily aimed at taking up evacuation, rescue and rehabilitation operations, flood stores etc., are being used for strengthening of bunds and maintenance of barrages. There is a gross mismatch between allocations and expenditure on this head. While the highest allocation of ₹150 crore was made in 2018-19, the highest expenditure was ₹380 crore in 2016-17. Lack of sufficient field staff is another drawback. The posts of lashkars, gate operators, mechanics, welders etc. have not been filled for the last one and a half decades which impacts the monitoring of flood banks. Only 25% field staff are available. About 3,000 more have to be recruited for better flood management, official sources say.


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Printable version | Jan 20, 2022 11:38:59 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/andhra-pradesh/wake-up-call-for-om/article37905979.ece

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