(Photo: Dave Morgan/dmorg.org)
The Comptroller and Auditor General of India has slammed the managers of the Farakka barrage on the Ganga in West Bengal for inadequate maintenance of the project which led to major gate failures on six occasions from 1985 to 2011. By not carrying out protection work, safety of the entire barrage was compromised, states the CAG report tabled in Parliament during the monsoon session.
The barrage was commissioned in 1974, and its operation and maintenance is with the Farakka Barrage Authority (FBA) under the Ministry of Water Resources (MoWR). The Central Water Commission (CWC) provides overall guidance for barrage maintenance through its technical advisory committee (TAC), gate regulation committee (GRC) and canal study group (CSG).
The CAG report noted that major systems such as gates’ remote control systems and navigational locks of the barrage have remained inoperative for nearly three decades. The project management did not have enough spare gates as prescribed by CWC, while bed protection and maintenance works on the feeder canal were not undertaken. No action for preventive maintenance of the barrage structures has been taken, the report says.
The main barrage has 112 gates while the head regulator has 11 three tier gates. As per norms of CWC and recommendations of GRC, gates are to be painted at intervals of four to six years to avoid rusting. However, audit observed that the project managers did not fix any norms for periodic painting of gates. Further, in spite of several recommendations of the GRC and TAC, the project managers showed scant regard to these recommendations and the gates of the main barrage were not painted for many years. Similarly, gates of the head regulator and Jangipur barrage were also not painted for more than 10-15 years.
The audit looks in detail into the inadequate repair and maintenance of gates and gate failures. Gate number 17 and 74 of the main barrage were totally damaged in February 2007 and in June 2008 respectively but were not replaced as of June 2012. Further, FBA identified four other damaged gates of the main barrage for undertaking special repairs on January, 2010. In January 2011, after a lapse of one year, the work was awarded to a firm for Rs 47.52 lakh with stipulated time of 180 days for completion of the work. The deadline for the work was July 30, 2011. The work was, however, yet to be completed as of June 2012 after 30 months from date of identification, the report stated.
Excess leakage affected Kolkata port
The report also notes leakage through the side and bottom rubber seals of most of the gates even though these gates were lowered to the river bed (sills). Some gates could not even be lowered to the sills because of mechanical problems. In two gates, the gap between the sill and the gates was 21-30 inches. This resulted in excess discharge of water to the neighbouring country (Bangladesh). Besides, excess discharge of water through the gaps reduced the pond level. “In order to maintain the desired pond level of the barrage, water discharge in the feeder canal was restricted, thereby, affecting the navigability of the Kolkata port,” the report reads.
Expenditure Finance Committee (EFC) during XI Five Year Plan proposed procurement of four spare gates at a cost of Rs 2.60 crore. Audit scrutiny, however, revealed that the authority did not procure any spare gate during the Plan period. “Inaction to procure adequate spare gates may lead to significant reduction in disaster management capacity of the barrage,” the report stated.
Operating system not upgraded
The existing operating system of Farakka barrage had also become obsolete, resulting in errors in operation of the gates. In order to remedy the situation, consultations were carried out between 1990 and 2003) with two agencies—Central Water Power Research Station, Pune (CWPRS) and Electronics Research and Development Corporation of India, Kolkata (ER&DCI)—for rectification of the system. Both agencies suggested replacement of the system with a new system with latest technology. TAC, however, declined (99th Meeting in 2003) the proposal as it would entail huge cost and recommended rectification instead. The projected cost of replacement suggested by the consultants or worked out by the barrage authority was not found on record. However, TAC decided (in its 101st meeting in 2005) to opt for upgradation as no agency was found for undertaking rectification as earlier recommended by TAC.
Though EFC provided Rs 1.50 crore during Eleventh five year plan Period (2007-2012) for completing the first phase of installation of the new operating system, no work was done till April, 2012. Consequently, the gates continued to be operated without the remote control system for more than 25 years and no action for rectification/up-gradation of the existing system was initiated in over 20 years since the first consultation was undertaken for the purpose.
“It is evident that the project manager paid no heed to the advice of different expert committees (GRC and TAC) for repair and maintenance of the steel ropes. Non-adherence to the experts’ advice regarding repair/replacement, coupled with absence of periodical inspection, is fraught with the risk of the gates collapsing and thereby creating an avoidable crisis,” the report said.
The feeder canal has several cross drainage structures for communication, irrigation and removal of drainage congestion. It has 17 jetties for ferry service, two road cum rail bridges and two road bridges. During the Eleventh FYP (2007-2012), MoWR allotted Rs 15.10 crore for operation and maintenance of feeder canal from Farakka barrage to river Bhagirathi (38 Km). Of this, the only 4.6 per cent (Rs 0.70 crore) was utilized till September 2011. Audit observed that despite specific recommendations by the TAC, the authority did not undertake protection works of the canal, viz. filling up the scour pockets in two reaches with sand filled bags, de-silting of Bagmari siphon, bank protection measures and construction of roads and bridges.
Floods cause scour pockets in the river bed which leads to deviation of contours. Bed protection works like dumping of boulders in crates are necessary to restore these scours and contours. The project authority carries out pond level surveys of the river during the post-flood period at close interval in the reach from 300 meter upstream to 300 meter downstream of the main barrage. The GRC recommended (December 2005 and again in November 2006) dumping sand bags and boulders on the contours to save the barrage structures by preventing undermining of the barrage foundation. Further the EFC during the XI FYP mentioned the necessity of undertaking the protection work of flexible apron along with submerged spurs and three damaged bays (16, 17 and 18) and provided Rs 7.50 crore. However, the authority did not spend any amount as of September 2011 thereby compromising the safety of the entire barrage structure.
In 2005, responsibility of Farakka for anti-erosion works was extended from 12 km to 40 km upstream and seven km to 80 km downstream of the barrage. The project authority through its four divisions took up anti-erosion works on a regular basis in the left bank upstream and the right bank downstream of the barrage. An amount of Rs 185 crore was incurred on anti-erosion works during 2006-07 to 2011-12 by diverting substantial manpower for these works from their regular duties. Audit report says this was one of the reasons for neglect of the required maintenance of the project.
“It is evident that expenditure on maintenance works was only seven per cent of the total expenditure, whereas expenditure on anti-erosion works was the highest at 35 per cent,” the report stated.
Gates corroded beyond repair
The CWC conducted inspection on July 2011 and concluded that most of the gates of main barrage and head regulator were in precarious condition and unless some urgent measures were adopted, their collapse seemed inevitable any time. All the gates were corroded beyond repairs and had lost their design strength to withstand hydro dynamic pressure.
The CWC suggested (July 2011) a comprehensive solution of replacing gates in a phased manner during the XII FYP period (2012-2017). It justified the proposal stating that the gates had already outlived their economic life and any future special repairs could only postpone the disaster in waiting for a couple of years. Therefore, instead of tackling the problem in a solitary piecemeal basis it was suggested to go for a comprehensive overhaul and replace all the gates. It advised the management to convene TAC meeting at the earliest for consideration and acceptance of this proposal. The TAC met in November 2011 and approved the proposal for replacement of gates and some other structures in phased manner during the XII FYP period.
Audit report says the protocol for preventive maintenance vetted by the CWC in June 2012 should have been in place much prior to their inspection. No system existed for periodic inspection and maintenance. No records in the form of log books or registers were maintained. Painting of gates and their special repair jobs awarded to the National Projects Construction Corporation (NPCC) and Jessop in 1996 continued till 2005 but remained unfinished.
It was seen that maintenance of the Farakka Barrage and its ancillaries was lax. Several critical structures such as gates, gate operating system and navigational lock were not maintained and repaired, resulting in a situation where some of these structures were in disuse for several years. The FBP Management, CWC and MoWR neglected the inspection and maintenance aspects of the FBP structures for last three decades. Bed protection works to restore the scours and contours in the river bed to save the barrage structures in order to prevent undermining of the barrage foundation were not undertaken.
The FBP Management accepted most of the audit observations and stated that action plans had been initiated for repair and replacement of the dilapidated structures in a phased manner during the Twelfth Five Year Plan period (2012-17), the report stated.