By Gajendra Singh Shekhawat
Dams have been at the centre of Indian life for several decades, and have been a part of the faith for eons. When the celestial river Ganga came crashing onto the earth, its ferocity would have broken the planet into smithereens, had it not been Lord Shiva who dammed its flow in his locks and saved the planet.
Today, the world has been a witness to a dam’s power. When the Three Gorges Dam over the river Yangtze became functional, it slowed the earth’s rotation by 0.06 microseconds. It is this power of dams that both impresses and intimidates us.
Dams, while being the vault of India’s progress and prosperity, also threaten human life and property. The historic decision by the current government of granting approval to Phase 2 and 3 of the DRIP (Dam Rehabilitation and Improvement Programme) at a project cost of Rs 10,211 crore is a step in the direction of water security, resilience against hazards and emergency action planning of the dam infrastructure around the country.
In terms of the number of dams in the world, India ranks third, after China and the US, with 5,745 such projects. While 973 dams, or 18% of the total number, are 50-100-year old, 2,992 (56%) are aged 25-50. The age of these dams is what makes a robust Dam Safety Policy an absolute necessity, as any kind of mishap has the potential to leave a trail of destruction in its wake.
It took the cataclysmic event of the 1979 Machchhu dam disaster in Gujarat’s Morbi district, resulting in death of scores of people, to serve as a wakeup call for dam safety and security in the country.
The committee formed to investigate the disaster recommended clear guidelines for dam safety protocols along with an implementing body to oversee the same. Thus, the DRIP was born and since then it has guarded the nation from impending disasters like the soldiers of water. Among the towering achievements of the DRIP are the rehabilitation of 207 structures in six years, numerous dam break analysis, the preparation of emergency action plans, training of professionals, and strengthening of institutions.
Currently, 18 states are serviced by the DRIP’s flagship project, the DHARMA (Dam Health And Rehabilitation Monitoring Application), capturing nearly 85% of data of 5,000-plus dams across the country. While the DRIP Phase 1 was doing a stellar job according to its mandate of providing dam safety since 2012, a third-party evaluation recommended the initiation of new phases. The decision taken by the government on October 29 is in the direction of implementing the recommendations.
The DRIP will be implemented over a period of 10 years in two phases—each of six years, with two years overlapping from April 2021 to March 2031. The upcoming phases will bolster its operational mandate of dam safety like structural integrity, surveillance and maintenance, instrumentation and monitoring, etc. In spirit, the DRIP is the actualisation of the principles and guidelines laid down by the Dam Safety Bill, 2019, which has already been passed by the Lok Sabha and will soon be presented in the Rajya Sabha.
The new phases of the DRIP have a vibrant mix of federalism and atmanirbharta weaved into it. Being a state subject, the management of water has always been a contentious subject. The ownership and management of water has been vested with the states. However, the exceptional work done by the DRIP has resulted in erasing any discomfort that the states (18) might feel in relation to dam management and maintenance.
Of the total budget for the second and third phases of the DRIP, Rs 7,000 crore will come from external assistance—the World Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank—while the balance Rs 3,211 crore will be borne by the concerned implementing agencies. The idea of revenue generation component of Rs 408 crore in the budget came from the Prime Minister during briefing sessions in order to make dams self-sustaining or atmanirbhar.
With emphasis on weekend tourism, water sports, fisheries, solar power and other allied activities, a perfect balance between structural resilience and economic resilience of dams has been envisioned through the project. Dam disasters are seen as matters of national shame; they not only lead to human tragedy, but also devastate the ecology. Thus, it is important that India becomes a leader in dam safety, which the DRIP Phases 1 and 2 will certainly be achieving in the coming times.
There are so many aspects that common people may not be aware of that keep them safe while they go about their lives. One of these is the safety and maintenance of dams. The silent warriors who work in this area labour day-in and day-out to keep the country safe, store our precious commodity and add power to our fight against water scarcity. The expansion of the DRIP is a reward for their fight, a token of appreciation from the government for keeping its people safe and ensuring that they sleep in peace and tranquillity, knowing that our waters are safeguarded and our tomorrow has been secured.