Op-Ed: Hirakud dam needs a fresh look

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: With monsoon likely to arrive in the state soon focus will shift to flood management and Hirakud dam over Mahanadi will be at the centre of the discussions over the issue. The dam, one of the first multipurpose irrigation projects of the country, has courted several controversies in the past with its utility being debated time and again.

Hirakud has been under intense scrutiny with one of the expert studies undertaken in the past pointing out that the dam, which came into existence more than 50 years ago, has failed to serve its purpose. While the reservoir project, which rendered over one lakh persons homeless by acquiring almost 47000 hectares (ha) of agricultural land, has been a disappointment from the point of view of livelihood gains, it has also failed to achieve its basic objectives–flood control, irrigation coverage for multiple cropping in the Command area and generation of hydro-electricity—in the expected measure.

The study points out that the intensity of floods in Mahanadi river affecting coastal plains has increased in recent years. Some of the estimates point out that following the operation of Hirakud Dam in 1958 the frequency of high floods in Mahanadi basin has risen from once in 3.48 years to 3.3 years while the relatively gentler low floods have fallen to once in 3.35 years from the pre-dam period of 3.1 years.

The study says that although in the initial years the reservoir of the dam was able to provide optimum flow water irrigation coverage to the land in the downstream of the command through its vast canal system after 1980s it gradually started affecting the livelihood security of the marginalised people. The small and marginal farmers comprising mostly the tribals and other marginalised people living in the downstream of the river dam and tail end of the command are now deprived of water for irrigation.

Besides, it points out, that the farmers in the tail end of the command are not in position to grow any second crop during Rabi season due to acute water scarcity. In the drought years they fail to get adequate water to protect their standing paddy crop.

According to the study, the dam that became operational in 1958 was expected to irrigate an area of 0.8 million acres (0.32 million Ha) with 100 per cent Kharif intensity and 48 per cent (0.154 million Ha) Rabi intensity. But the effective coverage of agricultural land under canal water of the project is much less than the planned target.

Besides the massive displacement caused by the dam continues to rankle a large number of oustees who are far from satisfied with what they got from the government. According to estimates 22,144 families with a population of about 101000 were affected by the project, a sizeable chunk of them being tribals. Many of the displaced resettled at new sites and colonies continue to wallow in poverty. Hirakud, by all accounts, needs a fresh look at its utility considering the costs involved.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)