From the archives: Where Dams are Most Needed

Published - May 08, 2014 01:28 pm IST

In this November 3, 1979 editorial, The Hindu makes a case for dams while also calling for the need to strengthen them. At the end, the editorial refers to Mullaperiyar dam.     

THE RECENT CONGRESS of the International Commission on Large Dams (ICOLD) in New Delhi is significant for two reasons. The Congress has been convened in the Indian capital for the second time after 1951 and the latest session marks ICOLD's golden jubilee. Between 1951 and now, the aggregate effective storage capacity of the dams in India has risen from 12 billion to 134 billion cubic metres. Of the world's 30 000 large dams, 1.550 are in India of which 870 have been completed over the last 28 years. China, the USA and Japan have a much larger number of .dams than India but the point is that, among developing countries (excluding China), India has scored quick new highs in the design and technical competence of its dams. The ICOLD itself is a non-government organisation which acts as a clearing house of technical information. India's participation in this forum has helped obtain some sophisticated knowhow which has been used in a variety of dams such as masonry and concrete gravity dams, concrete arch dams, earth and rockfill dams. Because ofall this, the country is in a position to claim the creation of big man-made lakes as at Nagarjunasagar, Rihand, Bhakra and Srisailam. It is, of course, true that the size of these lakes cannot stand comparison with some of those abroad—as at Owen Falls (Uganda), Bratsk (USSR). Aswan (Egypt), Kariba (Rhodesia-Zambia) or Akosombo (Ghana).

While Indian dams have no doubt assisted in stabilising agricultural production and yields in a more direct manner than had been thought possible in the mid-Fifties, there are still two areas in which considerable leeway has to be made up. One is what the Union Minister for Agriculture and Irrigation referred to in his speech at ICOLD's New Delhi Congress: the proneness of the Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghna basin, which is one of the largest fluvial systems of the world, to the extremes of drought and flood. The basin is capable of offering storage of 1.000 billion cubic metres of water, but the effective storage is only 25 billions. What is required is that the official recognition of this fact should be competently followed up by the formulation and implementation of a properly phased action programme for impounding monsoon freshes which will ensure that the 400 million people inhabiting the basin do not any more have to be resigned to flood and drought as their destined tortuous annuals. The second area where equally close scrutiny and speedy action are needed relates to the inspection and strengthening of dams to, guard against breaches. Breaches in Dowleshwaram indicated what the havoc could be, if this aspect of irrigation projects were not accorded due practical emphasis. Already the Kerala Government has begun complaining about the vulnerability of the Periyar dam which is inside Kerala, but under the control of Tamil Nadu. A check in time means a saving in lives and property and the requisite inspection should be given the appropriately higher priority to eliminate fears and avoidable fault-finding.

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