Crisis in Balimela Dam: Chief engineer’s report hints at serious lapses

Malkangiri: Balimela dam project chief construction engineer Bibhuti Bhusan Mishra Monday submitted a report to the Collector over unauthorised release of water to Andhra Pradesh from the reservoir.

According to sources, the chief engineer’s report hinted at serious lapses on the part of the authorities of the dam in the whole episode.

Some gates were opened January 12 without the approval in the water body meeting resulting in flow of 7,000 cusec water from the reservoir. The authorities failed to close the gates as the poorly-maintained gates stopped functioning and water continued to flow into AP territory.

Later, Orissa POST carried a report over the issue and apprehended that if the flow of water was not checked immediately it would adversely affect power generation at Balimela hydroelectric power station, Poteru irrigation project and snap ties with the cut-off regions of Chitrakonda block.

The level of water in the reservoir came down to such a level that launch operators were reluctant to ferry people across the reservoir as the bottom of the launches were hit by  remaining parts of large trees that were felled during setting up of the dam. The operators didn’t want to risk the lives of the passengers, it was learnt.

Low water level prevented anchoring of launches in several villages of the cut-off regions including Sindhiput, Bihangudi, Badiguda, Jantri, Guguli, Totaguda and Titilapadar.

Taking the matter seriously, the Collector held a meeting March 8 with the officials of both states and asked Mishra to submit a report in this regard.

In the report, Mishra indicated that the executive engineer of the dam opened the gates without the permission of the chief construction engineer and with no approval at the water body meeting which were mandatory. Besides, other precautionary exercises are routinely done before opening of the gate which was not conducted this time. As the gates suddenly stopped working, water flow couldn’t be checked.

Left with no option, the authorities pressed a technical team from Bhubaneswar into service. On the advice of the team, thousands of bags packed with straw were placed at the vent of the gate to check the water flow to a certain extent, the report said.

In the wake of the receded water level in the reservoir, the dam authorities decided not to release further water and communicated it to their AP counterparts.

However, the neighbouring state has not taken it kindly and threatened to move Supreme Court over the issue.

The earthen dam, a joint venture of Orissa and Andhra Pradesh, had been set up in 1962 at Chitrakonda in Malkangiri district. A 99-year-long agreement was inked by both states to enjoy the reservoir’s water on 50:50 basis. While the state had set up a hydro electric project at Balimela, AP had its power station at Upper Sileru. The water released from these power stations had been used in irrigation of large tract of farmland in both states.  PNN

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