Yamuna Augmentation Canal Breach – Man-made Disaster?

Goggle Imagery of the Area

Goggle Imagery of the Area

A 75 feet wide breach on right bank of Yamuna Augmentation Canal (AC) has drowned vast agricultural land area belonging to three villages of Alahar, Palewala and Nachron falling under Radaur block of Yamuna Nagar district, Haryana.

The breach reportedly occurred about 14 km downstream Hamida Head on Western Jamuna Canal (WJC) in Yamuna Nagar district around 03:00 am on 12th of April 2015. From all accounts, it seems like an avoidable manmade disaster about which credible independet inquiry alone can help arrive at truth.

The 69 km long AC that branches off from WJC at RD 68000 m from Hamida Head, Yamuna Nagar was constructed in 1973 under Late CM Bansi Lal tenure. Initially the capacity of AC was 3200 cusec. Later, in 2000, it was remodelled and lined, increasing its capacity upto 4500 cusec. However, the AC has never carried such augmented flow of 4500 cusec at least officially for various reasons, including damage to the new gates (2009-10), siltation, weak embankments, etc. AC rejoins WJC at Picholia Head Karnal (between Munak Head and Indri Head).

What went wrong

Augmentation Canal breach near Palewala Village

Augmentation Canal breach near Palewala Village

Many of us will forget the incident after few days without bothering to find the possible reasons behind the breach. Incidents of canal breach are gradually on the increase. There are several actors active leading to the man-made canal breach disasters, what on face may be made to appear as a very simple natural incident. Here we try to explore the possible aspects behind the ill-fated breach, which leaves not only several local farmers in lurch but raises larger issues and unanswered questions pertaining to overall operation & maintenance of canal based irrigation system.

Colossal damage to crops

The untimely rains induced by Western Disturbance in the month of March-April 2015, across Central and Northern parts of India, have already impacted hundreds of farmers in Yamuna Nagar district. Farmers of Alahar, Palewala and Nachron villages would have never thought that AC meant to reduce seepage losses will flood and wash away their ready to harvest crops. The unexpected breach releasing officially around 3200 cusec of water for four consecutive hours during early morning of Sunday dealt a deadly blow to them.

The breach submerged the vast cropland

The breach submerged the vast cropland

As per media reports more the 2000 acres of croplands were submerged or damaged by canal water. However, Prem Chand, Sub Divisional Magistrate, Jagadhari reported that crops on 130 acres were completely destroyed. Wheat and Vegetables (Tomatos, Cauliflower, Mustard Crop) crops suffered the maximum damage followed by the sugarcane which was least damaged. As per the local farmers, the unnatural flooding has eroded the fertile top soil layer and deposited thick sands sheet on their fields which will impact productivity for several years to come. About 30 acres fields of Sripal Rana, Rajbal Rana and Vijendar Rana of Palewala village were severely impacted since the breach was close to their fields.

Farmers continue to reap harvest of troubles

Struggling hard to withstand the fatal combination of untimely rain and hailstorm in association with strong wind currents sweeping across the countryside laying down otherwise bumper wheat production, every farmer of the area has minimally on an average suffered losses of 25 percent of the their harvest. The affected farmers are still waiting promised relief. State Govt. plan of purchasing less wheat this season is further bad news for them. Sugar mills, in the middle of season, have denied entry to hundreds of loaded trolleys and delayed payments to debt ridden farmers, breaking the back of farmers. On the top of all these, the man-made disaster in form of canal breach has dealt crushing blow to the local farmers. Deeply broken by the incidents several farmers’ families of Nachron and Palewala villages could not muster up courage to prepare meals on Sunday. On Monday when the water level in field receded, farmers broke into tears on seeing their destroyed crops.

Possible Breach Site & Affected Area (Goggle Imagery)

Possible Breach Site & Affected Area (Goggle Imagery)

Mujare among Worst Hit

There are several share-croppers locally known as Mujares mainly from adjoining districts of Uttar Pradesh state practicing farming in the area. Their entire family members are involved in vegetable farming as a lone source of livelihood. Such landless poor farmers are neither reflected in agricultural policies and welfare schemes nor find any mention during damage estimation exercise on event of such man-made disaster.

Loss to aquatic life least acknowledged

With lowering water level, several hundred fish inhabiting the AC were spotted dotting the affected fields. They fell easy prey to people and stray dogs, who in the middle of the disaster scene enjoyed catching and killing of fish in large numbers.

No End to Political Melodrama

Amid the grave tragedy, local politicians from ruling and opposition side have started visiting the affected villages and solacing traumatized farmers with promises. They held Irrigation Department responsible for negligence in proper maintenance of the breached AC. Shyam Singh Rana, local MLA having inspected the site, announced 100 percent relief package to ailing farmers. Karan Dev Kamboj, a State Minister from the area has assured the farmers of requesting Chief Minister for providing maximum relief to affected families. District Administration, Yamuna Nagar summoned all the five Patwaris ordering them to conduct immediate Giridawari. Nepal Rana, the son of current MLAs faced the ire of the farmers for delay in relief packages for rain hit crops. He held the owner of local sugar mill (who has affiliation with opposition party) for not purchasing sugar canes form local farmers. Local administration approached the Hamida Head around 06:30 AM, only thereafter supply in AC was stopped. Bhartiya Kisan Union staged a protest on the embankment of breached canal.

Farmers’ Demands

Affected farmers demanded Rs. 50,000 as relief aid for per acre of crop damage. They asked district administration to lodge complain against owner of Khukni Small Hydro Power (SHP). Agitated famers are also thinking to file a case in High Court against Irrigation Department Haryana for keeping the canal unmaintained for last many years.

Role of Khukni Small Hydro Project (SHP)

Khukni SHP downstream the breach site

Khukni SHP downstream the breach site

In 2011-12, Haryana Renewable Energy Development Agency (HREDA) commissioned Khukni (Thaka) and Musapur SHPs with 1.4 MW capacity each on AC[1]. Both SHPs are being run by Puri Oil Mills a Delhi based company. These SHPs are located on AC at a distance of about 5 and 15 km respectively downstream from the breaching point. Villagers alleged that Irrigation Department diverts maximum amount of water into AC from Hamida to meet SHPs’ demand, not bothereing about the worn out portions of AC. Any artificial or accidental ponding of water upstream of the SHPs may easily lead to a breach and flooding of the upstream villages. We have also noted during our recent field trip to the Hamida Head and highlighted it in our blog[2] that all the water from the WJC is being diverted to AC at Hamida Head.

Role of Irrigation Department

As per local media reports, at the time of breach Hamida Head diverted around 3200 cusec of water in AC. Analysing carefully, the figure seems normal and does not tend to pose any serious threat leading to the unexpected breach. On the basis of official data mentioned under in tabular format, we see that there was 5000-6000 cusec water available in WJC. Keeping in mind the recent releasing trend, there was no release in WJC at Hamida Head. This means that even if the Head was holding back 1000-1500 cusec of water, still it might be diverting more than 4000 cusec of water in AC. There is the possibility of human error in the operation of head. The release of 4000 cusec or even higher quantity of water can certainly further increase pressure on the weakened embankments as complained by farmers and which can very well result in a possible breach. The concerned Irrigation officials have either switched off their phones or are not responding properly on phones, which further raises this suspicion. Some of the facts about the breach used here have been taken from the local media contacts and online media editions[3].

Water availability (cusec) in WJC on 11th April from 20:00 (08:00 PM) hrs till 06:00hrs (06:00 AM) on 12th April 2015.

Date

Hrs Water in WJC at HKB* Water released in Somb from WJC at DPR*

Water available in WJC downstream of DPR and at Hamida Head

11.04.15

20

4881 2922 1959

21

4881 1948 2933

22

4881 1948 2933
23 4881 1948

2933

24 6000 924

5076

12..04.15

01

6000 00 6000

02

6000 00

6000

03 6000 924

5076

05

6000 924

5076

06 6000 924

5076

*HKB-Hathini Kund Barrage on Yamuna River, from where the WJC & EJC start; *DPR-Dadupur Barrage on Somb River

Crumbling Augmentation Canal

The breach made farmers realise the comment made by Late CM Bansi Lal coming true who once said, “In future, no one will be even able to repair this canal built by me”. Locals have reported countless weak points all along the 69 KM length of AC right from origin to tail. The canal embankments have weakened over the time and parts of the embankment have fallen into canal at many locations. An Irrigation Department Official on condition of anonymity revealed to a local media person that in last 42 years the canal has never been de-silted. As a result canal bed-level has risen up significantly reducing its water carrying capacity. Local farmers also complained that many a times, it is filled to brim, creating breach and flooding threat.

This breach is not an isolated incident. In last two and half years, AC has breached twice submerging vast agricultural land upstream Khukni SHP. One such incident occurred on 15 November 2011, when right bank of the AC breached at Thaska village just half a km upstream of Khukni SHP causing enormous damage to cropland.

Controversial maintenance

Farmers allege that the accident could have been avoided if the relevant department had repaired the canal in timely manner. Digging further it was learnt that though AC originates and flows through parts of Yamuna Nagar district but maintenance and repair of the canal falls under Karnal Division jurisdiction. Irrigation Department Yamuna Nagar role is limited to ensuring water supply in it from Hamida Head. Obviously the farmers are paying heavily for the inaction by the irrigation department.

Lesser known facts

A copy of order delivered on 28 July 2014 by Haryana Electricity Regulatory Commission (HERC) spilled can of worms and raise serious questions. The proceedings of the order revealed that Irrigation Department Haryana and Puri Oil Mills tried their best to manipulate the resources and hide ground realities from each other. The order has contributed greatly understanding the characters and actors active behind the scenes proving that it was man-made disaster which otherwise on face looks a simple and natural canal breach to many of us.

A summary of the HERC order

In 2012, Puri Oil Mill approached the HERC[4] with a request of reviewing tariff plan for Micro Hydel Project(s) alleging that untrue information regarding ground realities of Augmentation Canal has resulted in reoccurring financial losses in Musa and Khukni SHPs. The company requested the HERC that all these costs and expenses are treated as actual O&M cost while determining the tariff for the period commencing 01.04.2012.

The allegation levelled by the company against Irrigation department and reply made by the irrigation department are eye-opening.

The company claimed before the HERC that:

  • Due to additional condition imposed by Irrigation Department to maintain and upkeep the canal 2 KM upstream and 2 KM downstream of SHPs and
  • Due to successive silt deposited in the Augmentation Canal upstream of the power plants, that in turn reduces the discharge available for power generation.
  • Due to specific directions of the Irrigation department to keep the water level lower in case of Khukni Power Plant disabling Company to achieve the designed Full Supply Level (FSL) which causes regular loss in generation of power.
  • The inherent weakness that exists on the canal lining at the junction inhibiting augmenting of the AC capacity from 3250 cusec to 4500 cusec was never shared with the company at the time of signing of Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and thereafter at the time of approval of DPR and also while at the time of approval of layout design of the project by Irrigation Department. It was revealed only after canal breach took place on 15.12.2011 and facts came to light during investigations carried out by the expert team of the Irrigation Department. The company pleaded that as a result of all above mentioned unexpected, continuous expenses; the project has caused the owner grave financial distress and has put the investments at risk.

In response the information disclose by Irrigation Department proved rather shocking, summary of which is given below:

Haryana Irrigation Department submitted that as per Departmental Interim Inquiry Report the company did not construct the designed slopes on the left and right side banks as per the approved design.

It was further submitted that the continuous leakages in the canal resulted in undermining of the bank which caused breach in the canal on 15.12.2011 at 500 m upstream of Khukni SHP. It also disclosed that the breach of canal on 15.12.2011 had occurred within the premises of the company due to the use of sub – standard material for the construction of the project and on account of negligence shown by the Petitioner.

Additionally, it was submitted that as per the MOU dated 27.11. 2006 the Petitioner company was solely responsible for the safety of the canal in the reach of approximately 3 KMs. It was further stated that the claim of the Company that breach occurred due to leakage from the joint raising the water level from 3250 to 4500 CS (cusec) is totally wrong and denied.

Further, it was submitted that the Detailed Project Report (DPR) received in the Irrigation Department, as regard to the Civil part, envisaged raising the lining vertically on both sides of the canal and the drawings were approved accordingly. Since, for the hydel project raising the FSL was required to create head for power generation, it was essential that the lining be raised. Accordingly the stretch of the existing canal between the two SHPs was handed over to the company for completing the civil structure for power generation as per the approved design.

It was further submitted that it was well known to the Company that AC is an Irrigation Channel and not a Hydro Channel and the Irrigation Department never faced any issue in running the same as irrigation canal. However, after installation of the power project, the stretch between two SHPs being used by the company for power generation and the canal being treated and used as Hydel Channel for which additional expenses are required which as per the MOU is the responsibility of the company.

In a letter written to the Company on 27.11.2012 Irrigation Department had stated that Haryana Irrigation Department would not interfere on cost issue for the maintenance of the canal on the upstream side of each SHP. It suggested the company to approach HAREDA/HERC, in case of difficulty, before start of the work. Irrigation Department in this letter made it very clear to the company that as per past practice Augmentation Canal does not take more than 3200 cusec of water safely and you should keep this in view while executing the remaining SHPs (on other canals).

Stand of Haryana Renewable Energy Development Agency (HAREDA)

Cornering the Irrigation Department, HAREDA stated that the success of small hydro projects depends on adequate discharge of water and proper maintenance of canal which is under the purview of the irrigation department. It has been observed that augmentation canal on which these projects have been set up is in a dilapidated condition due to which it is not being run at the FSL level causing loss of generation to the IPP and the state.

Reply by Irrigation Department to HAREDA

Irrigation department replied back to HAREDA that it is not possible for the irrigation department to make the canal to act as hydel channel and it will require a huge amount of money and irrigation department does not have any surplus budget for converting the irrigation canal into hydel channel.

Findings of the Chief Engineers Committee

To look into the matter, Haryana Govt in June 2013, constituted a committee of Chief Engineers that on 09.09.13 made several relevant findings in its report, some of which are: “The Augmentation Canal was able to run with only 3059 cusecs against the designed capacity of 3700 cusecs after its construction in 1971 and even after raising its capacity to 4500 cusecs the maximum discharge run in the channel was 3455 cusecs and the safe carrying capacity of the canal is about 3200 cusecs only.”

 “De-silting of the canal was however not done nor were the bank strengthening / restoration up to the designed level carried out at the time of rehabilitation because of which the authorized full discharging capacity was not reportedly achieved.”

It also found flaws in MoU signed by all concerned parties pertaining to the maintenance of the AC it stated that “nothing specific has been mentioned regarding their responsibility for regular maintenance of any affected reach of the canal leaving scope for the disputes arising on this account”.

Some other important facts

On the request of the Puri Oil Mills, Engineer-in-Chief, Irrigation Department on 12.05.2014 had granted de-silting permission of AC which has not happened so far.

 HERC, in a order passed in 2011 admitted that potential for hydro power projects in Haryana is low and canal based small hydro projects in Haryana do not get the desired head-fall requiring substantial civil work.

Two breaches locations upstream Khukni SHP

Two breaches locations upstream Khukni SHP

It is clear that the breach now in April 2015 is not an isolated incident. In last three and half years, AC has breached twice submerging crop lands. One such incident has occurred on 15 November 2011, when right bank of the AC breached at Thaska village just half a km upstream of Khukni SHP causing enormous damage to cropland.

In the past the Haryana Irrigation Department has several failures on its records, including failure duing the construction of Ditch Drain (2009), work for increasing the capacity of Hamida Head (2008) and at least two breaches of Augmentation Canal. In July 2010, the Ghaggar floods[5] had also seriously exposed the serious lacuanae in construction and maintenance of canals in Haryana.

In conclsion It is clear from the available details of the Yamuna Augmentation Canal breach that a numberof man made factors are responsible for the breach, including the release of unsafe quantum of water into the canal, lack of maintenance of canal both by the irrigation department and the operator of the Canal based hydropower projects, namely Puri Oils and lack of involvement of the local people in operation and maintance of the Yamuna Canals. That such incidents have happened more than once in the past, without the concerned department learning necessary lessons increases the worry. Further worrying factor is the increasing frequency of the canal, particularly in the context of changing climate and aging canal infrastructure. It is clear from all this that a credible indepenednet inquiry into the canal breach is required. Secondly, a participatory canal monitoring mechanism need to be put in place for all the canals in the states, with involved of the local communities. If these minimum steps are not taken, Haryana farmers will remain under hanging sword of more such disasters. In the mean time, the affected farmers must be immediately and properly compensated for the losses they suffered and the state must consider recovering such compensation amounts from those responsible for the disaster.

(Local media persons and online addition contributed greatly in the compilation of this data, photo credits is given to Sanjay Jha, Dainik Bhaskar, Google Maps by the author.) 

Bhim Singh Rawat, SANDRP (we4earth@gmail.com)

END NOTES:

[1] Capital Cost for Khukhni power plant of 1.4 MW commissioned on 30.09.2011, on a completed cost basis, has been claimed as Rs 17.49 Crore i.e. Rs. 12.49 Crore / MW and the same for Mussapur 1.4 MW power plant, the capital cost on a completed cost basis, has been claimed as 16.30 Crore i.e. Rs. 11.64 Crore / MW. The SHPs had average rated head of 2.43 m.

[2] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2015/04/13/blow-by-blow-how-pollution-kills-the-yamuna-river-a-field-trip-report/#more-4901

[3] http://www.tribuneindia.com/news/haryana/community/75-foot-canal-breach-floods-y-nagar-fields/66391.html, http://epaper.bhaskar.com/yamunanagar-bhaskar/139/14042015/cph/1/, http://epaper.bhaskar.com/yamunanagar-bhaskar/139/13042015/cph/1/, http://epaper.jagran.com/epaper/13-apr-2015-170-yamunanagar-Page-1.html, http://epaper.jagran.com/epaper/13-apr-2015-170-yamunanagar-Page-1.html, http://epaper.jagran.com/epaper/13-apr-2015-170-yamunanagar-Page-1.html

[4] https://www.herc.gov.in/writereaddata/orders/o20140728.pdf

[5] http://sandrp.in/floods/An_Analysis_of_the_Flood_Disaster_in_Ghaggar_Basin_in_July_2010.pdf

2 Comments on “Yamuna Augmentation Canal Breach – Man-made Disaster?

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