Flood fury: BBMB bashing by state leaders misdirected | Analysis
Punjab Ekta Party president Sukhpal Khaira alleged a “conspiracy” behind the release of large quantities of water by the BBMB into Sutlej.Updated: Aug 27, 2019 08:13 IST
The ruling Congress and the opposition parties, particularly the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), rarely agree on anything.
But leaders of these parties recently hit out at the Bhakra Beas Management Board (BBMB) — which regulates the supply of water from Sutlej, Ravi and Beas rivers — blaming the water released by it from Bhakra dam last week for floods in the state.
If SAD threatened to move the court for action against the BBMB and compensation for extensive damage caused with the release of excess water into Sutlej, Punjab rehabilitation and disaster management minister Gurpreet Kangar demanded that the board chairman should be from Punjab and not Himachal Pradesh.
Punjab Ekta Party president Sukhpal Khaira on Monday went a step further, alleging a “conspiracy” behind the release of large quantities of water by the BBMB into Sutlej. They all have been upset as over 150 villages in 12 districts, including Kapurthala, Jalandhar, Rupnagar, Moga, Tarn Taran and Ludhiana, were hit by floods and crops on over 35,000 hectares were submerged.
But all this sound and fury is neither borne out by the facts nor backed by experts and state irrigation officials who see the flood fury in Punjab as a situation created by “extreme rainfall” over two days – the highest in the last 40 years – in the catchment area of Sutlej that led to huge inflows for which available arrangements were not adequate.
Data shared by the BBMB and state agencies shows that Bhakra reservoir received 4.86 lakh cusecs (cubic feet per second) of water over three days, including 3.11 lakh cusecs on August 18, after torrential rains and cloudbursts in the catchment area in Himachal Pradesh, taking its water level to 1,681.33 feet on August 19, which was above the maximum filling capacity of 1,680 feet.
“There is a cushion of five feet and they can go up to 1,685 feet to retain extra water for a very short duration. But this will depend on how much more inflow is expected and they release it quickly to avoid putting the dam in danger,” said an expert, requesting anonymity. The BBMB opened the floodgates to release water, which varied between 53,000 cusecs and 77,000 cusecs from August 17 to 19.
However, Ropar hadworks to which this water flows received 2.5 lakh cusecs, including 50,000 cusecs from Bhakra, on August 18 and released it further. Most of this was “uncontrolled and unregulated flow” from Sirsa, Swan, Budhki, Siswan and other rivulets. Against a capacity of 2 lakh cusecs, Sutlej had a water flow of 2.7 lakh cusecs in Phillaur the following morning, resulting in “overtopping” and breaches in bundhs that led to the flooding of fields and villages in several districts.
The river – which used to flow in a width of four km till the 1950s when embankments were built to bring it to about 1 km – is not designed for such a huge inflow. This was the first time since 1988 that it was carrying water beyond its capacity. “The criticism of the BBMB is totally unwarranted. We cannot blame it unnecessarily just to make ourselves look good. They (BBMB) have been cooperating with us all along. Today, we have requested them to reduce the discharge and they have acceded to it,” said Punjab’s chief engineer, drainage, Sanjeev Kumar Gupta.
There have been issues related to lack of adequate maintenance of embankments due to non-availability of funds, rampant illegal mining and reduced carrying capacity due to deposition of silt that made things worse. The BBMB needs to anticipate and prepare better for such extreme rains. The state authorities should also enhance the carrying capacity of rivers by strengthening and widening the embankments, besides putting a stop to illegal sand mining and haphazard construction along the rivers, to be able to deal with such an eventuality in a better way in future.
Chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh has already announced his government’s intent to canalise all rivers of the state with technical support from the World Bank and Asian Development Bank to realign river streams and courses, besides strengthening and widening of embankments for a “permanent solution”.