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What makes Damodar river a sorrow for West Bengal and Jharkhand?

What makes Damodar river a sorrow for West Bengal and Jharkhand?

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  • GS 1 || Geography || Indian Geography || Rivers

Introduction

  • The Damodar River flows into the Hugli River. The Damodar River flows through the Indian states of Jharkhand and West Bengal. The valley, which is rich in mineral resources, is home to large-scale mining and industrial activity.
  • The Damodar and its tributaries dubbed the “Sorrow of Bengal” because of their destructive floods in West Bengal’s plains, have been tamed by the construction of several dams. Since 2003, it has been the most polluted river.
  • The floods displaced around 2.2 million people in the state’s eight southern districts, less than a month after a similar disaster in July-August 2021,  casting doubt on the flood-control capabilities of independent India’s first multipurpose river valley project.

Why In the news?

  • India’s National Green Tribunal (NGT) imposed a fine of Rs 1.69 crore (Rs. 16.9 million) on the Chandrapura unit of the energy company Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC), for polluting the river.
  • The river was in the news during the recent West Bengal floods, in which half a dozen districts were flooded and state chief minister Mamta Banerjee wrote a letter to the prime minister of India blaming DVC for the floods. She termed the flood a human-made disaster and requested the prime minister to intervene.

About Damodar

  • It rises in the Palamau hills of Chhota Nagpur at an elevation of about 609.75 meters.
  • The catchment area of the river above the confluence is fan-shaped and as such is susceptible to the concentration of flood flows but the catchment below the confluence is narrow and has an average width of 16.09 km.It flows across some of the most mineral-rich regions of India which could be a boon for states like Jharkhand and West Bengal.
  • But instead, the mining activities are a curse for the river and also for the people living near it.
  • The river flows through seven districts of Jharkhand – Lohardaga, Latehar, Ranchi, Chatra, Ramgarh, Bokaro, Dhanbad, and five districts of West Bengal – Bankura, Purulia, Burdwan, Howrah, and Hooghly, covering a length of 547 kilometers with 23,370.98 square kilometers of the catchment area.

Reasons for  flooding of river Damodar 

  • Pollution- The route of the Damodar river is known for its coal mines, coal washeries, thermal and hydropower plants, steel plants, fertilizers, cement, and chemical factories.
    • The water pollution of the river has the potential to impact 25 million people.
    • The accumulation of silt in the DVC reservoirs is happening so fast that the dams will not be able to stop the severe floods after a decade, said a committee constituted by the centre. The discharge and waste from these factories and industries pollute the river severely.
  • Proliferation Industries and plants- In 2019, furnace oil kept flowing in the river from Chandrapura thermal power plant for 41 hours.
    • A paper published in the Journal of Bioremediation and Biodegradation in 2012 concluded that the river water is not potable (fit to drink) and also not suitable for taking bath.
    • Another research paper studying the impact of COVID-19 lockdown on water quality of Damodar River found, “Water Pollution Index (WPI) of pre-lockdown showed that around 100% samples are highly polluted.
  • Mines
    • In the upper catchment area near Singhbhum, there are uranium mines and there is a possibility of river water getting contaminated with radioactive substances.
    • The worst water quality in all (six) locations is due to high contamination of Total Coliform [bacteria].
    • Flyash- River water is getting contaminated with fly ash, which is full of poisonous substances like heavy metals. Unfortunately, there is no study available on the impact of this contaminated water on local people.
    • Local people are forced to bear the brunt of pollution on their health and their economy.
  • Urban sewage- Other than the industrial pollution, urban sewage flowing into the river is also emerging as a big challenge. Damodar River is the lifeline of millions of people in Jharkhand and West Bengal. However, it is getting contaminated due to industrial discharge and urban sewage.

Damodar Valley Corporation

  • DVC came into existence for the very purpose of flood control. Before independence, Bengal used to witness frequent floods because of the Damodar River, leading to enormous destruction of property and loss of lives.
  • In 1943, when Bengal drowned in another such flood and people were disgruntled, the government of Bengal appointed a board of inquiry which suggested creating an authority and also the construction of dams and storage reservoirs to avoid any such situation in the future.
  • In March 1948, the Damodar Valley Corporation Act was passed by the center and with that, DVC came into existence.

Role of DVC-Is is sustainable or not?

  • DVC was primarily established for flood control and other subsidiary purposes like irrigation, power production, etc.
  • With passing time, it has emerged as a major power production company. In Damodar valley, DVC has seven thermal and two hydropower plants.
  • When the act came into existence in 1948, it was mentioned that the DVC will punish polluters of the Damodar River. Ironically, DVC itself is polluting the river these days.DVC has agreed to stop the passage of its waste into the river and also to construct a sewage plant for the same.
  • Infrastructure degradation, insufficient irrigation management, poor service delivery quality, and inefficient irrigation are all issues it faces.
  • Farmers in the area are forced to extract groundwater due to the aforementioned reasons, which raises cultivation costs.
  • Furthermore, the Lower Damodar basin has a history of flooding. Because this area lacks the infrastructure to protect against recurrent flooding, recurrent flooding affects 33,500 hectares of cropped land and 461,000 people on an annual basis.

Major concern

  • An expert committee set up by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in 2013 had estimated that over Rs. 3,500 crore (Rs. 35 billion) would be needed for the desilting of DVC’s Maithon and Panchet reservoirs.
  • The expert committee said that the accumulation of silt in these reservoirs is happening so fast that both the dams will not be able to stop the severe floods after a decade. The committee estimated that the amount of silt in Panchet is six times the prescribed rate and more than nine times in Maithon reservoirs.
  • If siltation continues with the same intensity, in 10 years, Panchet will lose more than half of its water storage capacity and Maithon will lose more than two-thirds of its capacity.
  • It would defeat the purpose of building large dams and the low-lying area of the Damodar Valley will again become prone to floods as the two main reservoirs will not be able to stop the flow of floodwaters.

Solutions

  • Experts say the only way to save the Damodar valley is for these highly polluting industries to make massive investments in clean-up technologies or to switch to a new generation of cleaner technologies, but the industrialists exploiting the area’s resources are not willing to make the change.
  • Immediate action is required to resurrect India’s many dying rivers, protect its agriculture, and prevent serious harm to public health from contaminated water.
  • Maintaining sustained civil society pressure on governments is critical to ensuring that this is done promptly. India is already threatened by a water crisis. Government and society must take a proactive role.
  • The only option seems to be to draw up a master plan for the whole area and get the industrial units in the area to bear the costs based on their capacity to pay.

Mains model Question

  • In India, polluted rivers reflect societal and governance failures at both the local and national levels.” Discuss

References