M A I N   N E W S

North faces power, water crises
Bhakra level drops
Ajay Banerjee
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh/Bhakra, September 10
North India is headed for one of the worst water and power crises in the next 10 months till June next year. After a dismal monsoon the availability of water in the Sutlej, the Beas and the Ravi has been reduced. The outflow from the dams on these rivers has been officially cut down by 35 per cent while Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh have already imposed heavy power cuts on daily basis.

This is an unprecedented scenario since the rivers were harnessed in the early 1960s and late 1970s.

The cut of 35 per cent on water has already started and it will be enforced till June next year thus posing a challenge on grain production, generation of power supply and also the economy of the states.

The extraordinary situation has come about after Himachal Pradesh, which forms a large part of the catchment area, saw an unusually bleak monsoon. It has rained only 38.7 centimetres in Himachal which is 43 per cent less than normal. The Met department classifies this as a deficient monsoon.

The only way to bridge the shortfall in power is to impose cuts or procure power from outside at higher costs. The last one can set back the fragile economy of the states by about Rs 600 crore in total. The shortage of water will further tax the fast depleting underground water table, said sources in the irrigation sector. The real crunch will come between April and May next year, opined a senior engineer associated with a project.

The states of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan — partners in the major river projects of Beas and Sutlej — besides two other users, Himachal Pradesh and Chandigarh, have been informed about the situation, sources pointed out. The crisis has no answer other than imposing a cut on water release from the Bhakra dam and also the Pong dam and the Ranjit Sagar on the Sutlej, the Beas and the Ravi, respectively. Drinking water will not be affected. However, power supply will be curtailed.

The Bhakra Beas Management Board (BBMB) has said it will be generating 8,500 million units of power this year ending March 31, 2005. Now this is a whopping 3000 million units less than what it did last year at 11, 444 million units.

The problem on power can be imagined as the entire region comprising Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh and Himachal Pradesh consumes about 210 million units everyday. Now this shortfall has to be met through either increased thermal power or buying from outside. Besides hydro-power these states also get power from thermal stations and surplus power of other regions like the eastern grid. Winter peak load is close to the peak summer load. Hydro power station provide the critical peaking power to maintain the frequency on the power grid.

Power at Bhakra is produced at 13 paise per unit as the project has recovered its costs in nearly four decades. The states are used to getting this power for almost free. Now during winter and early part of summer the power supply may fall short and procuring this from outside will cost at least Rs 2 per unit or even more in peak hours.

The Chairman of the BBMB, Mr Rakesh Nath, said: “This is an unprecedented situation.” The BBMB has classified this as “a very dry year” for the Bhakra — the biggest hydropower dam in the country. The dam has been filled to just 42 per cent of its capacity. The dam has filled to 1593.86 feet which is 87 feet below its capacity. At Bhakra it is not just a question of 87 feet. The 140 square kilometre reservoir shaped like a “V” and the upper portion of the reservoir stores the maximum water. This present gap, had it filled, could have met water requirements for more than five months.

The share of water and power for the partner states is fixed on the basis of three parameters that change according to the inflow of the water in the reservoirs. The three parameters are fixed as “dry”, “dependable” and “mean”. The last is the best followed by “dependable” and “dry” condition is the worst scenario. This year it has been even lower than dry conditions, said Mr Nath. 

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