Hirakud Dam – An Assessment

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Some years ago, a candidate from Sambalpur, Odisha appeared before an interview Board of Reserve Bank of India for the appointment of an officer post. The Chairman of the Board asked him to give an assessment of Hirakud Dam. Instead of replying the candidate asked – what kind of assessment do you want? The chairman again asked – what do you mean by assessment? In this way the argument becameconfusing. As a result, the candidate failed and his job was lost.

So, what is the meaning of assessment in the context of HirakudDam? Here assessment means pros and cons of Hirakud Dam as a river-dam project. What are its good effects and bad effects?

HirakudDam was constructed to control the flood in Odisha in the catchment area of Mahanadi River. In pre-independence era, when Mahatma Gandhi visited Odisha, he became very sad seeing the floods of Odisha in the Mahanadi and its tributaries. So, after independence, in June 1948 construction of Hirakud Dam was started. It took almost ten years for completion. In 1957 Jawaharlal Nehru inaugurated the dam. He said – Dams are the modern temples of India.

Engineer M. Visweswaraya proposed three dams to check floods in the Mahanadi River. One at Hirakud, near Sambalpur, the second at Tikarpada, downstream, popularly known as SatkosiaGonda, the third at Manikarnika, further downstream. But only one dam at Hirakud was constructed. The other two could not be done due to political reasons. So, despite the presence of Hirakud Dam, Odisha is still experiencing floods.

Sambalpur District Gazeteer says that many thousand years ago, there was a natural lake exactly in the same place where the present Hirakud reservoir is located. When Mahanadi came from Raipur Sihawa; it penetrated through the lake and broke the other embankment and thereby dried the lake. And again, when the dam was constructed the lake was again filled up. History repeats itself. (Sambalpur District Gazeteer – Page No. 8 and 9)

However, Hirakud Dam was constructed for the sole aim of flood checking. But electric power is also being generated and canal irrigation is available on both sides of the Dam. Double crop cultivation became possible. The canal irrigation areas became granaries of the Sambalpur district. This is the plus side of Hirakud Dam while doing its assessment.

The negative side is the rehabilitation of evacuated people, who were the worst affected people by the dam. It is an extremely sorrowful matter. The people had to leave their native lands for good. It is easier said than done. One example is given here.

Rajendra Kishore Panda, a retired IAS officer was the inhabitant of the village Batlaga near the big village Rampela, in the submerged area of Hirakud Dam. When his villagers were evacuated in 1956, he was studying in class VII. When his belongings were loaded in trucks he gave one final look towards his house, cried and ran into the house and brought a handful of soil and put in his pocket and sat in the truck and went away from native soil never to return.

He kept this handful of native soil throughout his life, till the time that too disappeared. Rajendra Panda, a poet also remembers his village in a poem – JibanaPrati (An Ode to Life).

Samaste chaliagle

Kiekuade gale jana nahi.

Vitamati chhadi samaste chaligale

Kahin gale Santoshini Nani,

GovindaPujari,

Bhubana Mastre

Samaste chaligale

Aau Krushi nama sahita hajigale

Mo saptama shrenira

Bhugola bahi

(All went away. Where we don’t know. All left the native village – where gone Santoshini Nani, GovindaPujari, BhubanaMastre (the village school teacher). All went away.

The village land and the agricultural land were lost in the water along with my geography book of seventh class. This sounds the note of a true tragedy. Probably it is ‘Death by Water’ in T.S. Eliot’s poem – “The Waste Land”. This is the darker aspect of Hirakud Dam.

More than 360 (three hundred sixty) villages were submerged in the Hirakud Dam. The submerged villages were under thirteen numbers of thanas (Police Stations). I was born in the year 1961. I have not seen the construction of Hirakud Dam.

But I have heard the tragic stories of evacuation, heart-rending cries, and innumerable difficulties and hardships. Probably due to this reason, the other two dams at Tikarpada and Manikarnika could not be constructed and could not see the light of the day.

This is the assessment of Hirakud Dam, a dam of 25 kms. Length having 64 sluice gates and 34 crest gates. It is the longest earthen dam of the world. The cost of construction was Rs. 100.02 crores. It may be mentioned here that a British Engineer had said that dams can not check floods.

Vayu Purana says – The nature of water is to flow downwards. Water should not be checked. But man is trying to check water, of course, abortively.

According to geographical thought (Majjid Hussein) there are two theories – Determinism and possibilism. According to Determinism, nature determines the fate of man. And according to possibilism, man can take advantage of geographical possibilities.

Hirakud Dam is an instance of possibilism. But determinism also can not be sidelined. Nature is all in all. What nature gives we have to accept it. We have to accept Hirakud Dam both in its determinism and possibilism. There is no third option.

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