Over the last two weeks, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat have engaged in war of words over the sharing of Narmada river waters. Madhya Pradesh has threatened to restrict the flow of water into the Sardar Sarovar Dam, located in Gujarat. This was after Gujarat, in April, had requested the Narmada Control Authority for permission — which was granted — not to start generation at a power house until the dam fills to its full level.

The power equation
The Sardar Sarovar Project includes two power houses, the River Bed Power House (RBPH; 1,200 MW) and the Canal Head Power House (250 MW). Power is shared among Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat in a 57:27:16 ratio. The RBPH has been shut since 2017, when the gates were closed and the reservoir height was raised to 138.63 m. Gujarat has sought that generation should not start until the water reaches the full reservoir level (FRL).

“The protocol is that once the dam crosses 131 m, we ought to release some water as it fills to its FRL. For this, we have to resume power generation in the RBPH, where the turbines release the water downstream into the river. If the inflow exceeds the capacity of the water released by the turbines after power generation, then too we have to open the gates. The dam cannot just be filled to 138.63 metres without balancing the outflow,” said Rajeev Kumar Gupta, Managing Director, Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd (SSNNL).

On Thursday, the SSNNL issued a circular announcing an upcoming 6-cusec release, in keeping with the 131m protocol. The current level is 129.65 m

What Gujarat wants
In April, the SSNNL approached the Narmada Control Authority which granted its request not to start production until the water reaches 138.63 m. Gujarat has been facing a rain deficit in 2017 and 2018, when the reservoir reached levels of 130.75 m and 129 m. Engineers in Gujarat say reaching the FRL is necessary for testing whether the concrete can withstand the thrust at that level. The construction has lasted close to five decades with gaps of several years. Filling the reservoir is possible only when the RBPH is closed because the water used for generating hydro power cannot be reused — it is drained into the sea. The Garudeshwar Weir is still being constructed to store water released after generation of power at the RBPH. Once the weir is ready, the water can be stored and pumped back using reversible turbines during non-peak hours of the grid, officials say.

 Why MP objects
While MP Chief Minister Kamal Nath has indicated that the state will follow the Authority guidelines in letter and spirit, the government has raised an objection to its consent to Gujarat, terming it ‘unilateral’, and has refused to share its surplus water with Gujarat that would allow the reservoir to be filled. MP took that position after frequent power outages led to discontent, the political power having just changed hands. The BJP attacked the government saying MP has returned to the “dark days” of the previous Congress rule of 1993-2003. The government’s official position was instead of generating power — and sharing it with MP — Gujarat was storing the water released from MP. The MP government has also cited incomplete rules and regulations, arguing that if the reservoir level increases, those yet to be resettled will be affected.

Gujarat counter
Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani has blamed the Congress government in MP for playing politics over Narmada water. Officials say that Gujarat’s share of 9 MAF (million acre feet) water in a normal monsoon year is insufficient to generate power as drinking water and irrigation are priorities, and Gujarat can generate power only when all states work together. They allege that while MP has the highest share of the water at 18 MAF, it refuses to release the surplus share for power generation and to allow the dam to be tested at FRL out of a “political design”.