The Impact of the Damodar Valley Project On the Environmental Sustainability of the Lower Damodar Basin in West Bengal, Eastern India
8 Pages Posted: 26 May 2014
Date Written: May 24, 2014
The Damodar Valley Project is the first major Multipurpose River Valley Development Project in Eastern India after the country became independent in 1947 from the British rule of over 200 years. Originating from the Khamarpet Hills (1050 meters above mean sea level) of the Chotonagpur Plateau in Jharkhand state and flowing thereafter over the heavily dissected plateau in the upper valley part in the west; the River Damodar enters the rolling plains of West Bengal in the east and taking a sharp right-angle bend, it ultimately joins the Bhagirathi-Hugli River (Ganga River) which falls into the Bay of Bengal. The Upper Damodar Basin is wide fan-shaped in nature where the up-valley hill slope is very steep in contrast to the Lower Damodar Basin which is very narrow and elongated with gentle topography. Again, the river flows just in opposite direction of rain-bearing south west monsoon wind. So, during the monsoon period, the lower Damodar Basin becomes saturated first with the monsoon water and when the south west monsoon wind reaches the Jharkhand state and there is heavy downpour; the rain water rushes through the Damodar and causes floods of various magnitude in the lower segment in each and every year. Therefore, devastating floods of high destructive nature were of regular occurrences for which the river was typically known as the ‘Sorrow of Bengal’.
Flood in the lower Damodar Basin has a long history since the first recorded flood of 1730. Apart from the small scale participatory initiative by the local people in managing floods by jacketing the lower course in order to restrict the spreading of the flood water of the Damodar River, the first worth-mentioning project on part of the British rulers was the excavation of the Eden Canal so as to divert the monsoon flood water into the Bhagirathi-Hugli River. However, this venture was not so effective in mitigating the agony of people of the lower Damodar Basin. The Government of India invited Mr.Voorduin, to prepare the project report. Finally, a Multipurpose River Valley Project under Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC) was initiated by the Government of India for the entire basin in 1948. In this Project known as Damodar Valley Project (DVP), four big dams viz. Tilaiya, Konar, Maithon and Panchet were constructed in the upper valley and a barrage at Durgapur in the middle valley segment instead of eight dams as proposed in the original plan due to shortage of funds.
This paper tries to trace out the objectives and implementation of the Damodar valley project in the upstream segment of the Damodar River and its impact on environmental sustainability of its lower valley segment within a period of fifty years of construction of big dams – the wonder of modern technological development of the 20th Century. Because of massive diversion of upper Damodar water into canals, the lower Damodar is now starved of its natural flow resulting gradually either de-linking of some of the distributaries from the mother Damodar river and/or a few surviving distributaries turning into kana nadi (blind river). Thus, life drainage has been modified into defunct drainage. Unfortunately, this created just the opposite reaction i.e. instead of controlling the natural flood; the lower Damodar basin is repeatedly devastated by the release of huge amount of water from the up valley reservoirs i.e. Man-made floods. Storing of monsoon rain water in dams and barrage further aggravated the problem of siltation in the river bed instead of replenishing the fertility of the land as the annual flushing was greatly checked. Therefore, lesser availability of surface water flow through rivers, have forced the farmers to tap ground water for which ground water level has gone down considerably. Therefore, there is a great impact of construction of big dams and barrages under the multipurpose river valley project on the environmental sustainability of the lower reaches of the mighty Damodar River.
Keywords: Dams, Defunct Drainage, Environmental Sustainability, Flood, Multipurpose project
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