Insider view: BBMB is inefficient, slow, heavy, bureaucratic; Does not work to preserve its massive resources

Bhakra Beas Management Board (BBMB, http://bbmb.gov.in/english/index.asp) is the manager of India’s celebrated icons: Temples of Modern India as our first Prime Minister called it. In a rare occasion, when we get a candid account of insider’s view of this organisation, it is worth taking note of it.

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 Bhakhra Dam: Photo from BBMB 

BBMB, created on Oct 1, 1967, has current annual budget of massive Rs 1000 crores and manages the Bhakra Nangal Project, the Beas Project I (Pandoh dam, the Beas Sutlej Link and the Dehar Power House) and the Beas Project II (Beas Dam and Pong power houses). With close to 3000 MW of installed capacity it generates about 12.5 billion units of power annually.

Mr Satish Loomba, who served as Financial Advisor to BBMB between 1996 and 2001 has just provided an interesting view about the functioning of BBMB in his article Need to corporatise BBMB in The Tribune of January 23, 2014: http://www.tribuneindia.com/2014/20140123/edit.htm#6. While the author, as the title suggests, is advocating a corporate restructuring of BBMB, what he has said in the process provides a valuable insights from an insider. Here are some snippets:

Þ    “This organisation, which has become heavy, slow and bureaucratic…”

Þ    “However, despite a façade of running smoothly, the BBMB, from the organizational standpoint, suffers from several infirmities, limitations and internal contradictions.”

Þ    “At the core of the inadequacies in the BBMB are the… systems which do not promote efficiency, cost control and long term health of its vast assets… It has no concern with the value of its output…”

Þ    “… capital of the BBMB is not being preserved in accordance with accepted principles…” In fact in recent years, the illegal dumping of humungous quantities of muck (even a 100 MW project creates several million meter cube of muck) by the numerous major, medium and small hydropower projects in upstream Sutlej (see: http://sandrp.in/basin_maps/Hydro_Electric_Projects_on_Sutlej_River_in%20HP.pdf) and Beas (see: http://sandrp.in/basin_maps/Hydropower_Projects_in_Beas_Basin.pdf) basins is  leading to accelerated silting up of the Bhakra, Pong and Pandoh reservoirs, but no one, not even BBMB has shown the slightest concern.

Þ    “For the ageing irrigation wing assets, which are colossal and could be in sudden need of massive recapitalization…”

Þ    “… there is no account which summarises its results for a specific time period…”

This is a very serious indictment, not only of BBMB but also the way the “icons” of India are being managed by an organisation controlled by the Union Ministry of Power. Are these remediable infirmities or are these the implications of the kind and size of structures that BBMB manages? The author of the above article does not even pose this question, but is a very relevant one.

Declining Hydropower generation As per our analysis of hydropower generation from the three BBMB projects in Himachal Pradesh, namely Bhakra (1325 MW), Dehar (990 MW) and Pong (396 MW), with total installed capacity of 2711 MW, the generation per MW installed capacity has shown hugely declining trend with trend line declining by 18-20% in less than three decades. We also have graphs of individual BBMB hydropower projects that show similar trend line. This is a massive decline and in any responsible governance, questions would be asked as to why this is happening, but here, there are no questions.

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Unravelling Bhakra In a comprehensive critique Unravelling Bhakra, (see: http://www.manthan-india.org/spip.php?rubrique1, available in both English and Hindi), author Shripad Dharmadhikary has shown that it is a myth to assume that Bhakra dams were the only or major reasons behind India’s food security, green revolution or irrigation in North West India. He has shown with facts and figures that are yet to be proven wrong that the contribution of Bhakra dams was limited.

unravellingBhakara

Displaced people still awaiting justice Over five decades after commissioning of the Bhakra project, the people displaced by this most celebrated of Indian dams are still awaiting justice, as is clear from this latest news report (http://www.tribuneindia.com/2014/20140120/haryana.htm#10) in January 2014. This has been highlighted by many in the past including Govt of India’s Water Resources Minister in his autobiography, by SANDRP in 2002, by Shripad Dharmadhikary in above  mentioned book and continuous media coverage. This also shows the callous attitude of BBMB and concerned state and central governments.

Ad hoc, callous reservoir operation It is no secret that even this irrigation system is in bad and declining health. This is due to many reasons, including due to lack of maintenance and participatory governance. Several times it has been pointed out how unaccountable and inefficient has been the operation of the Bhakra reservoirs. Two recent occasions when SANDRP pointed this out include the following:

Þ       July 2012: Precarious situation of Bhakra dams: BBMB says emergency measures are imminent: Callous, ad-hoc reservoir operation again? Could this situation have been avoided? http://sandrp.in/dams/PR_Why_precarious_water_situation_at_Bhakra_dams_was_avoidable_July_2012.pdf

Þ    Sept 2010: Bhakra reservoir is being operated in casual, adhoc manner? Need for clearly defined norms of accountability in reservoir operations http://sandrp.in/dams/Bhakra_and_Need_for_accountability_in_Reservoir_Operations_Sept_19_2010.pdf

Þ    With general elections approaching in coming April May 2014, we have to wait and see if the Bhakra reservoirs will again be operated in an ad hoc manner like it happened before previous two national elections.

We hope right lessons will be learnt from this insider’s view of the alarmingly inadequate functioning of the BBMB and efforts will be made to make its functioning more participatory, transparent and accountable.

Himanshu Thakkar (ht.sandrp@gmail.com)

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