Gujarat Govt Under Fire for 'Holding Back Narmada Waters for PM Modi's Birthday Causing Floods'

Both Congress and AAP alleged that water was held back in the Sardar Sarovar Project for two days before being released all at once on September 17 – Modi's 73rd birthday – leading to floods in five districts.

New Delhi: The opposition Congress and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) have accused the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Gujarat of holding back waters in the Sardar Sarovar Dam on the Narmada River for two days before releasing a huge volume – 18 lakh cusecs – all at once on Sunday, September 17, leading to floods in five districts, particularly in the downstream Bharuch district.

According to the opposition parties, this was done to “please” Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who celebrated his 73rd birthday that day. Calling it a “man-made” disaster, they said the officials deliberately made the reservoir overflow and released water in one go, affecting lakhs of people and resulting in large-scale damage.

Gujarat has for the past few days been receiving heavy rains across several parts of the state. Rivers, reservoirs and other water bodies in the state are overflowing due to the continuous downpour. Rescue personnel, including the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), have been pressed into action in flood-affected areas.

Addressing the media in Ahmedabad on Monday, September 18, Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi said, “Despite heavy rains in Madhya Pradesh and hourly monitoring of water levels in Narmada dam, the authorities did not release adequate amount of water on September 15 and 16 and waited for the dam to overflow on September 17 to make someone happy.”

Calling it “criminal negligence”, he said, “The quantum of water released thereafter was so big – 18 lakh cusecs – that it flooded towns and cities located downstream including Bharuch, Chanod and Karnali. This is a man-made flood. We demand all concerned officials be booked for criminal negligence and confiscate their property for paying compensation to the flood victims.”

He alleged that officials ignored data available from the agencies concerned, resulting in large-scale damage. “The Meteorological Department observed exceptionally high district-wise rainfall for the 24 hours ending 08-30 hours on September 16, 2023. Among the others are Khargaon (144.6 mm), Alirajpur (108.2 mm), Dewas (149.7 mm), Dhar (80.4 mm), Harda (205.2 mm), Jhabua (92.4 mm), Khandwa (147.6 mm), and Narmadapuram (131.7 mm). CWC [Central Water Commission] and SSP [Sardar Sarovar Project] authorities receive hourly rainfall information in the watershed, thus they could have projected the flow and increased the carrying capacity of the downstream river even before the IMD announced the 24-hour figure at 08-30 hrs,” he added.

He went on further to explain, “According to the Central Water Commission on September 14, the Burgi Dam gates on the Narmada were opened. The levels of the Narmada’s Indira Sagar and Omkareshwar dams had begun to increase by the late evening of September 15. By late afternoon, both the Omkareshwar and Indira Sagar dams had reached their FRL (full reservoir level). This was yet another signal for SSP authorities to begin opening the SSP gates on September 14 and 15, since the water discharged from the upstream dam was bound to reach the SSP. However, as of 10 am on September 16, the SSP authorities had still not opened any gates from the Sardar Sarovar project, with solely River Bed releases.”

The Congress leader said his party would be writing to President Droupadi Murmu, the Central Water Commission, and the Union and state governments to lodge a complaint against the “erring” officials. “Had [they] acted in time, the flood waters from Narmada could have been easily diverted to Saurashtra where there was a demand for water,” he added.

Congress state unit president Shaktisinh Gohil said the floods were a result of a “drama” enacted by BJP leaders and state officials on the eve of Modi’s birthday. “It is a matter of great sorrow that over 17 lakh cusecs of water were released from the Narmada Dam in Bharuch on one day. In total, 18.2 lakh cusecs of water were released simultaneously, leading to waterlogging in low-lying areas of Bharuch. Water rushed in up to the second stories of buildings, causing significant losses and destroying farms,” he said.

Noting that had the water been released in smaller instalments, things would have been different, he said, “All this happened because September 17 was the Prime Minister’s birthday, and for that occasion, the dam was filled, and the chief minister went there to perform a pooja. To carry out this drama, the water, which had been rising since last week, was not released, and the turbines were shut down. Instead, if the water had been released in smaller installments, this destruction would not have occurred, and people would not have suffered so much.”

While underlining that Modi may not have information about such a thing happening, he said, “Gujarat government should not have undertaken such a gimmick to impress the Prime Minister, putting people’s lives in danger.”

It may be noted that chief minister Bhupendra Patel had flown to Kevadiya, the site of the dam, on Sunday morning for the “Narmada Jal Na Vadhamana” or to welcome the Narmada waters. The day also marked Modi’s 73rd birthday.

Pal Ambaliya, chairman of the Gujarat Kisan Congress, the farmers’ wing of the Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee (GPCC), also alleged that the Sarovar dam was “made to overflow”, and this wasn’t the first time such a thing had happened. “I had predicted last year 15 days in advance that Narmada dam would overflow on September 17 only and my prediction was proven right… The same thing happened this year as well,” he added.

He also accused neighbouring Madhya Pradesh officials of releasing 9.45 lakh cusecs of water from the Indirasagar Dam in their state to make the Sardar Sarovar overflow on September 17. The BJP is in power in Madhya Pradesh too. Narmada river flows through both Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat.

Congress leader and MLA Jignesh Mevani also hit out at the BJP government in the state. “To celebrate Prime Minister Modi’s birthday and present him as a larger-than-life ‘Messiah’ of the masses, some bunch of fools in the BJP government decided to open the floodgates of Narmada Dam yesterday (without any prior warning in nearby areas), and released 18 lakh cusecs of water at once leading to misery and devastation in the lives of ordinary people,” he wrote on X (formerly, Twitter).

Calling it a “man-made disaster”, he further wrote, “The water could easily have been released in a phase to these regions few days prior as a red alert was already issued and there was going to be more water in the dam. But does that count for a birthday celebration? No right? -They waited for the PM’s birthday to release the water. Hence, this is not a natural flood but a man-made disaster to celebrate the ‘Messiah’.”

AAP Gujarat unit president Isudan Gadhvi also raised questions on floods. “People have a question in their minds now: Is this current flood a natural disaster or a man-made one?” he asked.

Meanwhile, the Gujarat government dismissed the allegations. Rushikesh Patel, a minister in the Gujarat government, said all the norms of the Central Water Commission were duly followed.

On being specifically asked by media persons why the Narmada achieved the highest level of water only on Prime Minister Modi’s birthday for the last three times, he said, “Ask this question to Kudrat (nature).”