Truth vs Hype Special Report: Did Poll Power Sops Drain Narmada Dams?

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New Delhi:  In Madhya Pradesh and in Gujarat farmers confront a looming crisis of water scarcity.

According to the meteorological department, Western Madhya Pradesh has a shortfall of 60% while in parts of Central Gujarat, it is even worse, at 90%.

This is the time when the complex of mega dams along the Narmada river, the water lifeline for these regions, are meant to come to the rescue.

But today, water levels in the Indira Sagar dam are down to 7% and in Sardar Sarovar, down to 25%.

Data shows that in the crucial months before summer - February, March, April - they were cranking out hydel power much higher than normal.

The three dams - Sardar Sarovar, Omkareshwar and Indira Sagar - generated 725 million units of power in February, more than triple the 256 million units it generated in the same period last year.

NHDC, the agency which oversees the Omkareshwar and Indira Sagar dams has not replied to our queries.

The Narmada Control Authority, which oversees the Sardar Sarovar dam, did respond. In an emailed statement they said "the generation was higher this year since water made available was much higher". It also said "regarding the apprehension of deficit monsoon, it was taken into account and the generation was stopped from 3rd June, 2014".

But this begs the question why it took so long to stop generation, when by February this year, several reputed international weather forecasters were warning of potential drought in India because of the return of the El Nino phenomenon, alarm bells that should have led to prudent water management.

Instead, the high quantum of power generation led to a dramatic dip in water levels: capacity in Sardar Sarovar fell from 95% in February to 22% in March.

For Indira Sagar, it fell from an already low 47% capacity to 26%, lower than comparable levels for the same period.

So what explains the sudden surge of hydel power?

Himanshu Thakkar of South Asia Network on Dams, River and People, (SANDRP) which has collated this data says in all likelihood it was linked to the Lok Sabha elections. He said "before elections the government wants to give maximum power to the people to show minimum deficits. Hydel power is cheap and quick to generate, compared to thermal power."

Jainarayan Vyas, former Narmada Minister in the Gujarat government didn't rule this out. "I won't rule it out", he said. "I don't think power was generated for elections but states like Uttar Pradesh who were in a comfortable situation till the elections, all of a sudden started buying power."

Whether for reasons of short term political gains, or mismanagement, the impact is the same: exacerbating an already worsening water crisis for the people of these states.

(Watch more on Truth vs Hype: Man-made Drought? 10pm Saturday 19th July and 10:30pm Sunday 20th July on NDTV 24x7)

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