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193 villages in Madhya Pradesh flood due to Sardar Sarovar's backwater, who is responsible

The rising water forced villagers to flee. Despite the water level dropping on the 17th, the flood had already caused significant damage.

By Shishir Agrawal
New Update
sardar sarovar floods

The Central India region experienced a significant decrease of 47 per cent in rainfall, leading to concerns of an impending drought in Madhya Pradesh. Typically, this area receives 308.8 mm of rainfall, but this year it received only 165 mm. On September 4, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan visited Mahakaleshwar in Ujjain and offered prayers for rain. During a media address, he mentioned that August had been largely dry, exacerbating the water and electricity crisis in the state. Meteorologists predicted that the monsoon break would continue until September 5-6, and indeed it did. Fortunately, the rainy season resumed in Madhya Pradesh. In the first week of September (until September 6), rainfall was 86 per cent below normal levels. However, in the second week (until September 13), there was a substantial increase of 153 per cent in rainfall. With state elections around the corner, CM Chouhan returned to Mahakal with his wife on September 11 to express gratitude for the rain.

Rainy season and flooding of villages

The third week of September 2023 (14 September 2023 to 20 September 2023) witnessed a significant increase in rainfall, resulting in heavy downpours. According to the Meteorological Department, the state received a staggering 134.10 mm of rainfall during this period, surpassing the typical rainfall figure of 37.70 mm. This excessive precipitation caused water levels to surge in six dams that are strategically located along the Narmada River, namely Bargi, Tawa, Omkareshwar, Maheshwar, and Sardar Sarovar Dam. Consequently, a substantial quantity of water had to be released from these dams.

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Between September 15th and 16th, a staggering 42 thousand cusecs of water was released solely from the Omkareshwar Dam, while a total of 12.90 lakh cusecs of water was discharged from both the Indira Sagar and Omkareshwar Dams towards the Sardar Sarovar. Ordinarily, this water level rise in the lower Narmada valley via the Sardar Sarovar; however, even by September 16th, a satisfactory amount of water had not been released from the Sardar Sarovar. According to the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited, the water level in the reservoir on Saturday, September 16th measured 137.32 meters, only shy of their target of 138.68 meters, which is the dam's full reservoir level. On that day, 23 gates of the dam were opened but raised to a height of only 5.60 meters, despite the total height of these gates being 18.30 meters.

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Villagers taking out remaining items from destroyed houses

During the second week of September, we observed a significant increase in rainfall, reaching 153 per cent above average until September 13th. However, by the following week (September 20), this number skyrocketed to 429 per cent. A specific event occurred on September 16 when the Meteorological Department warned of heavy rain in affected areas of Madhya Pradesh. In this scenario, due to the combination of heavy rain and insufficient released water from the Sardar Sarovar, backwater from the reservoir began entering villages adjacent to the Narmada Valley in the aforementioned four districts of Madhya Pradesh. The water rose rapidly in these villages, leaving residents with no choice but to flee for their lives. Although the water level decreased when it was released from the Sardar Sarovar on the 17th, by then the flood had already caused significant devastation.

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Muralidhar Aggarwal is sitting at his scattered shop and collecting old newspapers.

Devastation in the village due to the condition of the dam

Muralidhar Aggarwal, a 62-year-old man, relies on the scrap business to sustain his livelihood. While he was out collecting scattered old newspapers, he couldn't help but express astonishment at the unprecedented flood that occurred on 16 September. In the past five decades, he claims to have never witnessed such a catastrophic event. His shop, situated in Maheshwar, Khargone, was quickly engulfed by the rapidly rising water, leaving them completely bewildered. Aggarwal estimates his losses to be around Rs 50,000, a significant amount for him and his family. This flood has left the entire community in Maheshwar shocked and overwhelmed. Strangely, Maheshwar was never considered a part of the submergence area of Sardar Sarovar Dam, yet on that day, even the bus stand merged with the river. Numerous villages experienced sights that was unimaginable to the elderly residents of the villages. In a follow-up to this series, we plan to publish a separate story focusing on these affected villages.

“The water level was not less than 150 meters”

Chichli, another village in Khargone, was declared partially inundated. It was not a new thing for water to reach the village square during the rainy season. Recalling September 16, Surendra Sisodia (51) says, “I was not afraid until the water reached the Chowk.” Estimating the speed of water rise that day, he says, “The water had risen by 50 feet in 1 hour. Then we also had to leave our house.”

Vishnu Bhagore, a resident of Nimola village in Dhar district, was asked about the water level in his village on that particular day. He responded by stating that the water level 'must have been at least 150 meters.' Despite successfully evacuating his family to safety, his belongings and livestock were left behind. Unfortunately, by the time the water receded, one of his bulls and three goats had perished. Similar to most villagers, Vishnu resided in a mud house where he had stored wheat and cotton intended for market sale in the upcoming days. However, now both the house and the grains have been lost.

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Mark of flood of 2013 on the gate of Maheshwar fort

We have no reason to doubt Vishnu Bhagore's account, especially considering the dire state of Maheshwar in Khargone. The floodwaters of 2013 left a lasting imprint on the renowned Maheshwar fort, with a watermark measuring 157 meters in length. However, locals who capture photographs at the fort reveal that 'this time, the water rose even above the fort's gate.' Rehmat from the Manthan Study Center corroborates this finding, calculating that the water level likely exceeded 161 meters based on the mark's position and the gate's height.

Unsuspecting citizens sinking village

Trilok Bhagore, a resident of Nimola village, was completely unaware until the afternoon of September 16th that his village would soon be submerged. Earlier that day, when his son broke his hand, Trilok rushed to a nearby hospital for treatment. Upon returning in the evening, he was shocked to find his house slowly being engulfed by water. Reflecting on the situation, Trilok expresses, "We had no information whatsoever, no inkling that our village would suffer such a fate." He further reveals that prior to the catastrophe, no government orders had reached their village, and even after the disaster struck, no government officials came to offer any assistance.

The administration has no account of the loss

All the development activities in Narmada, Madhya Pradesh fall under the jurisdiction of the Narmada Valley Development Authority (NVDA). It has been 10 days since the occurrence of the flood, yet NVDA has not disclosed any data regarding the extent of damage caused by this natural disaster. Ground Report attempted to obtain an official response regarding this matter, we reached out to the designated contact person, Chief Information Officer Neeraj, on the official authority phone number. However, unfortunately, Neeraj did not respond to our call.

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