UNRAVELLING THE “UNRAVELLING OF BHAKRA”
A CRITIQUE BY R.RANGACHARI
‘ UNRAVELLING BHAKRA ’ BY S HRIPAD DHARMADHIKARI
INDIAN WATER RESOURCES SOCIETY
UNRAVELLING THE UNRAVELLING OF BHAKRA
A CRITIQUE OF SHRIPAD DHARMADHIKARY’S “UNRAVELLING BHAKRA”
1. Bhakra-Nangal Project
The Bhakra-Nangal multipurpose project is among the earliest river valley
development schemes undertaken by Independent India. The project was conceived long
before India became a free nation and preliminary works had commenced in 1946. The
project was reoriented and phased soon after Independence. The work resumed in 1948
and the scheme was completed in successive stages by the early 1970s.
In October, 1963 at the ceremony to mark the dedication of the Bhakra –Nangal
Project to the Nation, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru said- “This dam has been built
with the unrelenting toil of man for the benefit of mankind and therefore is worthy of
worship. May you call it a Temple or a Gurdwara or a Mosque, it inspires our admiration
Various issues relating to dams, their benefits and impacts, positive and negative,
have become the battlegrounds in the sustainable development arena in recent years.
Unfortunately, there have been very few, if any, comprehensive analyses of how multi-
purpose dam projects performed over time. Currently proponents of dams point to the
many benefits while the opponents argue about the losses to society and environmental
costs, alleging that these outweigh the benefits. The debates in recent years have become
polarised and polemical, obfuscating the real issues. The setting up of the World
Commission on Dams and its Report -that came out in 2000- did not result in a balanced
review but only accentuated the controversies.2 The WCD report, in fact, questioned the
very utility of dams and generated acrimonious debates regarding their impacts.
In this context, the Centre for Policy Research, NGO think tank based in
Delhi, undertook in 2003 a performance analysis of the Bhakra-Nangal Project. The
findings were put into a report titled “Bhakra-Nangal Project: Socio-economic and
environmental impacts.3 Briefly stated, the assessment of its performance over the last
five decades revealed that the project has fulfilled, in a sustained manner, all the
objectives envisaged in the Project Report. In addition, it rendered many incidental and
indirect benefits, far beyond what were anticipated in the project report. Moreover, the
CPR study found that there was more than justified basis for the claimed beneficial
impacts due to the project outweighing whatever social and environmental costs had to be
Formerly, Member (CWC) and Additional Secretary to the Government of India, Ministry of Water
Resources and presently Honorary Research Professor, Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi
WCD, November 2000, Dams and Development, The Report of the World Commission on Dams,
Earthscan Publications, London, 2000
R.Rangachari , Bhakra-Nangal Project: Socio-economic and environmental impacts, Oxford University
Press, New Delhi, 2005 (under publication)
2. Manthan Adhyayan Kendra Report
Manthan Adhyayan Kendra (MAK), based in Badwani, Madhya Pradesh,
brought out in April, 2005 a publication highly critical of Bhakra4. This book, entitled -
‘Unravelling Bhakra : Assessing the Temple of Resurgent India’ was written by the
coordinator of MAK, the anti-dam activist, Shripad Dharmadhikary. Most patrons and
well wishers thanked by him in the acknowledgement are also well known opponents of
technological interventions in water resource development, including dams.
The study started with misgivings about Bhakra Project. The author says in his
Preface, -“ Against this background of India’s long experience with large dams, the
findings of the WCD, and the mounting national and international evidence, it was
intriguing to hear the unqualified, absolute and lavish praise of the Bhakra Project” (p.xi).
Hence, the study team set out to find –“was there something different, something unique
in the Bhakra project as compared to other projects?”
The MAK report finds everything wrong with Bhakra-Nangal project. It makes a
list of all possible adverse impacts of large dams and irrigation projects and then seeks to
show Bhakra as an example that allegedly confirms all the pre-decided conclusions of the
anti-dam lobbyists. It finally concludes that whatever prosperity is now found in Punjab
and Haryana is unsustainable and that these two states are on the brink of disaster.
Dharmadhikary found “the Bhakra dam and project to be a most ordinary
project, an ordinary dam much like any other large dam with all its flaws and blemishes”
(p. 229). He considered that “Bhakra happened to be in the right place, at the right time,
and has been given the credit for things it never did”(p. xxii). Dharmadhikary found that
the old saying that ‘ appearances can be deceptive’ was true in this case, too, and that the
long-held popular beliefs and perceptions are mostly just that---beliefs. ( p. xvii)
The Report is not an objective research study of the Bhakra-Nangal Project (BNP)
and its performance over the last five decades. It is rather an attempt at propaganda
against all large dams in general and Bhakra in particular, based on the prejudices of the
author against large dams. In order to project an adverse picture of dams and their
impacts it draws selectively from the statements and views of some individuals and twists
statistical data. It was, therefore, not surprising that it was immediately hailed by his
supporters in India and abroad as one which “explodes the ‘myth’ of Bhakra”5 or as
“debunking a dam legend”6.
The author often goes back and forth in the narration, moving from the specific
study on Bhakra Project to all the general issues against large dams or mega-projects. The
specifics about Bhakra and the general debate on dams could have been separated.
MAK has clarified that throughout its report, unless the context so indicates, or is specified otherwise, the
term Bhakra or Bhakra project refers to the entire Bhakra-Nangal project
For instance see news item “New study explodes ‘myth’ of Bhakra” by Gargi Parsai in ‘The Hindu’ dated
April, 19, 2005 and ‘River Sutras’, an article by Kuldip Nayar in the Indian Express dated April,26,2005
“Debunking a Dam Legend: New Book on India’s Bhakra dam”, International Rivers
3. The Iconoclasts unleashed
Why has Shripad Dharmadhikary been so harshly critical of Bhakra and of Punjab
and Haryana? Why does he not have one good word about the project? Some clues could
be obtained from the concluding chapter of the book (chapter 14) where, among other
things, the following points are made: (pp.229-238)
i) The areas proposed to be irrigated by the project had been highly exaggerated –-a
familiar phenomenon in large dam projects.
ii) It was not much different as far as performance went. Indeed, its performance has
been at gross variance with its larger-than-life public image.
iii) We started with the widespread public perception that Punjab and Haryana are
the granaries of the nation and that this was due to Bhakra. The Punjab = Bhakra
(and to a lesser extent Haryana= Bhakra) is an equation entrenched in popular
mind in India. We found that this was far from the truth.
iv) Bhakra would not be responsible for more than 31 % of Haryana’s production
and 20 % of Punjab's. This is a far cry indeed from the public perception of
v) Bhakra dam project is used as a model to justify large dam building programmes
elsewhere in the country. Proponents of large dams point to the spectacular
success of agriculture in Punjab (and to an extent in Haryana) and attribute it to
the Bhakra project. This is then used as an argument to advocate, justify or
otherwise push for other large dam projects.
vi) The Bhakra project, used as a proxy for the agricultural “success” of Punjab, is
used as an argument to end all arguments against large dams. The Manthan study
has shown that the argument is wide off the mark. The agricultural success of
Punjab and Haryana has been a short burst of prosperity that is not only
stagnating but also is plunging into economic, ecological and social crisis. And
even this short burst has had little to do with Bhakra. Hence, the use of Bhakra as
an argument to justify other large dams is a highly specious argument.
Clearly, the anti-dam lobby was highly worried about the icon-like status
achieved and sustained over these years by the Bhakra project, and the overwhelmingly
beneficial picture about the project embedded in the public mind. It was even more
concerned that the success of the project, if not challenged, might strengthen the public
support for similar large dam projects elsewhere. The detractors of large dams wanted to
destroy the “Icon called Bhakra”. So the iconoclasts were encouraged and supported to
attack it in every conceivable way. This seems to be the motivating cause for the savage
attack mounted on every aspect of Bhakra in the MAK study. (We shall soon see whether
these attacks had any justification, supported by rational evidence.)
The Preface of the book itself starts off by pointing that –“Indeed, the Bhakra
project has become an icon in the developmental history of independent India” 7 (p. ix).
The prosperity of Punjab, the huge production of food grains in Punjab and Haryana, the
Here and elsewhere in this critique, sometimes in the interest of continuity or brevity, minor modifications
can be found. The original version in the book can always be referred to, using page references cited.
surplus food produced by these states that provide support to the rest of the country, are
all repeatedly cited as testimony to great benefits of the Bhakra project” (p.ix). It
considers that the World Commission on Dams (WCD), virtually vindicated much of
what the people challenging dams had been saying. All these evidences show that the
anti-dam lobby was in desperate need for the iconoclasts to attack the project in every
way and try to smash this icon called Bhakra into smithereens. Only thereafter, perhaps,
could the large dams debate be diverted to their advantage.
There were quick and strong reactions from NGOs, professional bodies and
research institutions to the outbursts contained in the publication “Unravelling Bhakra”
released by MAK in late April, 2005. The Delhi center of the Indian Water Resources
Society (IWRS) brought out a brief rebuttal in May 20058. Centre for Policy Research,
brought out in July 2005 a Critique on the MAK report9. The Central Board of Irrigation
and Power, organized a Workshop on the Impacts of Bhakra Nangal Project at New Delhi
on August,4, 2005. A number of papers were presented at this workshop10. The
participants at the workshop discussed many issues raised in the MAK report.
Arun Shourie once pointed out that -“An organisation or group that is devoted to a
particular cause-to stop all dams, for instance- is liable to receive more and more
information that casts doubts on large dams:…………. The more passionately committed
it gets to this cause, the more likely it is to exaggerate the significance of every scrap that
reinforces the case. When it is “totally committed”, it will go about hunting for such
information, at times inventing it…..”11. Thus it is necessary to study the MAK paper
carefully to cross check what it says.
“Unravelling Bhakra”- is a 300 page report. If one has to examine everything said
in that report and straighten out every misrepresentation or illogical distortions, then this
critique too will become lengthy and take much time to finalise. Therefore this critique
will respond to the select main points made. The focus of the study will be kept as the
Bhakra-Nangal Project and its impacts. Accordingly, this Critique brings out the main
points about the Bhakra-Nangal Project that have been made by Shripad Dharmadhikary
in the MAK publication and explains the correct position in respect of them.
However, certain points about matters beyond the purview of the focus of study,
too, have been very briefly commented upon so as to present the readers with a more
holistic picture of the issues involved.
Before going into the major criticisms made against Bhakra, this Critique starts by
pointing out major errors and slants introduced by Dharmadhikary in his presentation of
the evolution of the project, its planning and the salient features.
Indian Water Resources Society, Delhi center, May, 2005, A brief rebuttal of “ Unravelling Bhakra”
Rangachari, R, July 2005 ,“A Critique on Unravelling Bhakra” Centre for Policy research, New Delhi,
Central Board of Irrigation and Power, August,2005, Proceedings of the Workshop –Impacts of Bhakra
Nangal project held n August, 4, 2005.
Arun Shourie, from an article that appeared in ‘The Asian Age’ dated 6 November, 1998
4 Presentation and evaluation of Bhakra by MAK
Manthan Adhyayan Kendra undertook the evaluation of the Bhakra project and its
report is the result of this study. It is noted that even in its presentation of the Bhakra-
Nangal project and its features, the MAK report introduced certain slants. Some errors
are also seen. Secondly, MAK did not undertake a comprehensive evaluation of the
project, but only of some select aspects thereof. These points are elaborated in this
section, before examining its comments on the project.
4 A. Presentation, slants and errors
CHAPTERS 1 and 2
Chapters 1and 2 of the MAK report (pp 1-31) deal with the Indus Basin, as also
irrigation development there during the days of British India. Though various versions of
the project were prepared during this period, partition of the Punjab province as also of
India drastically changed the picture and the Project was reworked after Independence.
Hence, no useful purpose would be served in the present context to analyze the material
presented in these chapters. However, one notices some errors and a definite slant in the
presentation to suit the later adverse comments on Bhakra.
On Page 10, while dealing with the Grey canals, a misleading and incomplete
statement is made as follows: “Many decades later, the Bhakra Project, by drying up the
Sutlej was to cut off the supply to some of these canals.” The correct picture would have
been presented if the author had added that these areas were incorporated as a part of the
Bhakra Project by adding new canals to serve their command. The Sidhwan branch,
utilizing Bhakra waters, was made a part of the Sirhind canal system. It irrigates the area
of the Ludhiana district lying between the outer irrigation boundary of the Sirhind system
and the high banks of the river Sutlej and the Grey canal areas.
On p 13 the details of the Bhakra -Nangal Project (BNP) are given. It is stated that
the “project is a complex system of several dams, reservoirs, ………”. This is incorrect.
There is just one storage dam at Bhakra with a reservoir and a barrage at Nangal (though
called Nangal dam) with a small pond. If the reference was to the Pong and Pandoh dams
on the Beas River, they do not form part of the BNP, but constitute different projects
called Beas I and II. However, the linking of the ‘Eastern rivers’ under different projects,
undoubtedly, brought much flexibility in operations.
Chapter 3 of the MAK report (pp 35-40) gives details of the BNP, as finalized
after Indian Independence. Three major critical comments are made in presenting the
planning of the BNP in addition to a discourse on the development paradigm adopted by
The criticisms made against Bhakra (and large dams) are dealt with below:-
Criticism 1 by MAK
“ …Bhakra project was not immune from another of the hallmarks of large dam
projects - claimed project benefits being highly exaggerated, even beyond what is
technically feasible, and this being done knowingly” (p 37).
Two supporting pieces of evidence for this criticism are mentioned. First, a quote
from BBMB (1988)12-
According to the BBMB: (the reference is to page 249 of BBMB 1988)
“…….the mean storage available from Bhakra reservoir was calculated to be 4.631 MAF
against a requirement of 6.207 MAF resulting in a shortage of about 25.4%”.
Hence, MAK report concluded that -
“In other words, there would be an average annual shortage of about 25% !” (p.37)
Comment on Criticism 1
If we look up page 249 of BBMB (1988), the correct position emerges. The next
three sentences, after the above sentence quoted by MAK, read as follows:
“Instead of cutting down the areas included in the project, the shortages were proposed to
be met as under:
1. Excess supply from Jamuna River were proposed to be diverted during the period
July to September into Narwana branch (old Sirsa branch).
2. A link of capacity 127.43 m3/sec (4500 cusec) was proposed from Madhopur to Beas
to divert the surplus Ravi and Beas waters. The construction of Harike barrage across
River Sutlej below its confluence with Beas enabled utilization of surplus Ravi water
to the extent of 2.54 million acre-feet in the Bhakra system”.
It is not clear whether Manthan left out these crucial sentences by oversight or otherwise.
All these have come into being. The benefits from Bhakra were not exaggerated beyond
what was technically possible.
Criticism 2 by MAK
There are quotations from (pages 53-54) a book by K.N.Raj (1960) to support the
same point. The quote from Raj (1960) reproduced in the MAK report at page 37 is a
truncated version with some significant omissions. MAK’s quote starts with-
“…it has been estimated by the project designer, from the records that are available of
rainfall and of the river discharges at Bhakra since 1909, that only in a few years will the
water available be adequate to fill the reservoir to full capacity …. ….”,
BBMB, 1988, History of Bhakra-Nangal Project, Chandigarh, October 1988
and it ends with,
“the irrigation facilities which have been promised appear to be in excess of what can be
Comment on criticism 2
Some basic facts relating to Prof. Raj’s book would be of relevance before we
examine his comments, as Dharmadhikary quotes him repeatedly. The objective of Raj’s
study was not an exhaustive analysis of the BNP. He was trying to investigate the criteria
which, from an economic point of view, should be used in projects of this kind - and how
they might be applied in concrete cases. Bhakra was incidental to this analysis. His
concluding observations make this amply clear (page 124 -Raj).
Raj collected data for the project in 1954-55, circulated his first draft in June 1956
and, by the end of 1957, was ready with the manuscript of his book. However, after a
long delay, the book came out in 1960. The features of Bhakra underwent changes
meanwhile in tune with Indo-Pakistan negotiations on the Indus waters. The Government
of India was attending to many things relevant to the Project, simultaneously.
First, the execution of the project so that there would be the least delay in
development of the waters of the ‘Eastern rivers’, second, on Indo Pakistan negotiations
on the Indus waters and third, with internal discussions with the states concerned. The
Indus Treaty was signed only in September 1960. The construction of the dam was
pursued and completed by 1964 and, progressively, the Government was able to ensure
all the irrigation they planned for.
Dharmadhikary, while quoting in 2005 from the book by Raj, written fifty years
ago, had obviously not checked whether the quoted data was out of date or if the point
made was still relevant or otherwise.
The Bhakra dam that Raj was commenting on was 680 feet high with a gross
storage capacity of 7.4 M.Acft (see Raj -pages 49 and 53)), whereas the Bhakra dam that
was being built then was 740 feet high with 7.8 M.Acft gross storage. A higher storage
was already provided for. This position would have become obvious to everyone had
Manthan not omitted the immediate preceding sentence while selectively quoting Raj.
Raj had also commented elsewhere in his book (p 49) about the Bist-Doab area,
“ with the large provision for storage of surplus water, it was also clear that the river
would almost dry up below Rupar, where the canals take off and thus this would create
more difficulties for the Bist Doab area which was already facing a sinking spring level.”
The project had by then taken care of this situation, too, by incorporating as a part
of the BNP, the remodelling of the Ropar headworks and a new canal to irrigate the Bist
This criticism is not a new point discovered by MAK. Himanshu Thakkar, one of
those who has been thanked for reviewing and commenting on the draft Manthan report,
had prepared in 1999 a thematic paper for the WCD on “Assessment of Irrigation
options: A study of Indian Situation”, which had incorporated Raj’s comments.
Raj himself was most understanding about the difficulties of the Project planners.
His observation made in the same book, which was neither mentioned by Dharmadhikary
nor by Himanshu Thakkar, reads as follows:
“ These comments, which are essentially tentative and need to be verified by closer
analysis must of course be seen in their proper perspective. They are not meant to be,
implicitly or otherwise criticisms of the engineers and others associated with the
designing and implementation of the Project. When a project of the dimensions of the
Bhakra-Nangal is being conceived and executed numerous assumptions have necessarily
to be made and some of them are bound to go wrong, whoever makes them. Anyone who
examines the decisions retrospectively is in a very advantageous position” (pp.129-130).
All those who now comment with the benefit of hindsight on the decisions made fifty
years ago in the face of many uncertainties should keep Raj’s advice in mind.
Criticism 3 by MAK
MAK report says that-
“An important feature of the project was that it used large amounts of critically short
foreign exchange, there was extensive use of machinery and lesser use of labour,
especially unskilled labour”. ( p.38) ……… “that it is capital intensive in a capital short
economy and makes relatively far lesser use of the massive human resources” (p.38).
Again, Raj has been quoted (but only selectively) in support of this ‘social cost’
comment (p.39, Raj).
Comment on criticism 3
The specific site conditions and the time frame for the construction have a large
bearing on the extent of machinery and labour that were to be used in the construction of
an engineering structure like Bhakra. The sides of the Sutlej gorge were steep and the
dam itself was going to be over 200 metres high. The project planners made their best
decision under these conditions. A cement concrete dam was best suited to this deep
gorge. Once this decision was taken, there was no alternative to mechanisation for
construction of the dam.
Here again, Raj had a clear appreciation of the matter. Unfortunately, Manthan
selectively omitted what he had said, which was as follows:
“ … the location and height of the dam, and the stresses it would be subject to in view of
the volume of water it is to hold in the reservoir, make it absolutely necessary that it
should be a cement concrete dam………..(p.39)
The use of machinery and materials in construction has to be even larger in the case of
the Bhakra dam than in ordinary cement concrete dams on account of its location and
height, and the scope for of unskilled manpower is almost negligible (p.40).
It is surprising that neither Himanshu Thakkar nor the MAK report deemed it fit
to quote from a later book of Dr. K.N.Raj13 (1990) on the matter. In his book entitled
‘Organizational issues in Indian Agriculture’, Raj stated as follows:-
“The actual possibilities of realising the increases in output in a given situation,
on the scale and within the period required, fix within certain limits the nature of the
investments, the substitutability of labour for machinery, as well as the location of the
As an illustration, he cites the case of the Bhakra-Nangal Project and concludes
by saying, “ Nevertheless, the expected increases in agricultural output in this region
have been considered substantial enough to justify the choice of the scheme.”
In addition to the labour force used during project construction, another relevant
consideration would be what manpower was likely to be employed later for the
agricultural operations from year to year. Neither of the commentators seems to have
taken note of the fact that, presently, up to a million migrant agricultural labourers are
employed in Punjab and Haryana. A large number of them work in the Bhakra command.
Criticism 4 by MAK
Irrigation started from 1951.The irrigation and power demands had fully
developed by the time the Bhakra dam was completed in 1963 (p.39). The irrigation from
the BNP began in 1953-54 and….for all practical purposes, there was full development
by 1964 (p.60).
Comment on criticism 4
The point made is incorrect or, at best a partial presentation of facts. We shall
revert to this point soon.
Chapter 4 (pages 43-55) purports to analyze the Bhakra command under the
various states and the categories of commands. Conditions prior to the BNP are also
indicated. In this chapter too, while presenting statistical data and past information about
the command, a slant that is critical of Bhakra (and all large dams) is noticed. Dubious
Raj,K.N. ‘Organizational issues in Indian Agriculture’, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1990, p
information seeking to belittle the contribution of Bhakra is also pushed in. For instance,
while discussing “Conditions in command prior to Bhakra” (pp 51-54), an attempt has
been made to show that these areas were prosperous even before the Bhakra project and
that even Hisar was being irrigated. This is not borne out by the facts. Southwestern
Punjab and the adjoining areas of Rajasthan had suffered from many devastating famines
as a result of severe droughts before India’s Independence. Hisar District Gazetteers refer
to repeated famines in this tract. There are detailed accounts, of the famines of 1860-61,
1869-70,1896-97,1899-1900,1920-30, 1932-33 &1938-40. Likewise, accounts are
available in the Gazetteers of other districts of Punjab and Rajasthan. The Report of the
Famine Commission (1860-61) extensively discussed the famine conditions of the tract
south of the Sutlej. These do not tally with the picture of an idyllic, prosperous
countryside that Dharmadhikary wants us to believe existed prior to Bhakra. This is only
an attempt at manipulating history by reconstructing the past to prepare for the future.
CHAPTERS 5, 6,7and 8
Chapters 5 to 7 (pages 57-110) deal with the role of Bhakra in food production.
Chapter 5 deals with the period 1950-66 and chapter 6 deals with the period beyond,
1966 having been treated as the year of the advent of the Green Revolution (GR). Chapter
7 deals with both the periods and seeks to conclude that Bhakra has played a very limited
role in food production from Punjab and Haryana considered together (page 108).
Chapter 8 (pp. 111-131) deals with ground water, and seeks to show that it was the real
driving force behind the growth in food production in Punjab and Haryana, and notes that
this did not depend on the Bhakra project. Instead of dealing with the errors and slants
chapter-wise, they have been grouped together and examined in later paragraphs.
Chapter 9 (pp.133-148) purports to show that even without Bhakra, all the
developments could have still been realized through other options. The MAK arguments
in this behalf too are also examined later.
Chapter 10 (pp.149-168) is about the ills faced presently by farmers in Punjab
and Haryana, but the slant in the presentation makes it appear that all problems are really
attributable to Bhakra, which is unjustified.
Chapter 11 alarmingly says that “vast areas are affected by waterlogging and salinity in
Punjab and Haryana including in the command area of the Bhakra project”. Chapter 12
alleges about some other environmental impacts. Chapter 13 deals with displacement and
rehabilitation issues. Chapter 14 is the concluding chapter that summarises the picture.
The main points made in these chapters have been listed and examined in this critique
4 B What MAK evaluated and what it did not
Any ex post facto evaluation of a completed project seeks to find out what the
Project report set out as its objectives and check what its actual performance revealed. It
also seeks to ascertain the unintended, incidental and indirect impacts- positive or
negative. The Preface mentions these objectives (pp. xi-xii) as the first two issues. In
addition, MAK decided to examine the present claims and the popular perception of the
project, and compare these with ground realities. It has not been explained as to whose
‘claims and perceptions’ these were and how they were determined. In any case, they are
not what the project report claimed that it would achieve.
Page xii of the Preface says that -“Due to limitations of time and resources, we
have not been able to study two important aspects of the project, namely the claimed
flood control and drinking water benefits. We hope to fill the lacunae in the future”. Note
how cautiously the author has inserted the word ‘claimed’ before flood control and
drinking water benefits. Even when he stated elsewhere in the Preface (p xix) that “the
reservoir has not filled up in most of the years”, he maintained a deliberate silence
regarding its implication on flood management. The study listed elsewhere (pp 139-140)
the number of years in which the reservoir did not fill up to the design level, and, here
too, remained silent on its implications on flood management. If a future report from the
author would emerge on these two aspects, in the general pattern of the present report,
one might see further criticisms on these aspects, too.
The main objectives of the Bhakra-Nangal Project, as stated in the project report
(which formed the basis for its approval), were irrigation and hydropower development.
The incidental and indirect benefits were listed as immunity from famines and prosperity
for the agricultural community, increase in the production of food grains/ cash crops,
flood control, industrial development, reclamation of state waste land and refugee
rehabilitation. MAK has not examined most of them.
There is a deafening silence in the MAK report as to why the evaluation of the
project did not examine its promise and performance over five decades with respect to
hydro-power, industrial development, refugee rehabilitation etc. Even in regard to
irrigation, the non-mention and non-evaluation of the entire Rajasthan part of the project,
covering over 1.08 million acres or 438,000 ha of the gross command one is intriguing.
The preface says - “due to the overwhelming association of Bhakra with food grains
production, this is the aspect that we chose to focus on”. If this were so, how can the
study ignore food grain production from more than a million acres in the Rajasthan part
of the Bhakra command?
The study will remain an incomplete evaluation without examining all these
aspects of the Project. We shall now turn our attention to what had been evaluated. As
pointed out earlier, the general discussions made in the report on all large dams (or even
all schemes on the entire Indus system), as also on the agricultural and developmental
policies of the Government will not be commented upon. Only the specific points made
in the MAK report on the Bhakra-Nangal Project will be analyzed here.
5. Role of Bhakra in the Western Jamuna canal
“Our journey into the Bhakra-land began with this awesome display of the green
revolution in its full visual glory. …. The mesmerising display of the green revolution
(GR) in the fields of Haryana and Punjab is matched by the spectacular statistics of
agricultural growth (p.xviii).
…………..As we soon found out, the lush green fields from Panipat to Hansi had little to
do with Bhakra. This area, along with other large areas in Haryana receive waters from
the Western Jamuna canal (WJC) and have been doing so since over 100 years The WJC
is a diversion canal taking off from the Yamuna river near Tajewala….”.( p.xvii)
It seems an ironical paradox that one who set out to “Unravel Bhakra” began his
journey with a visit to the lush green fields of Panipat-Hansi area in Haryana that lies in
the command of the Western Jamuna canal (WJC). But this serves to highlight an
important role that Bhakra plays in this region that is not widely known..
Though BNP was conceived and executed as a separate project on the Sutlej, it
soon became inseparably interwoven with the integrated programme of development of
the rivers of the region. The ‘Eastern rivers’ of the Indus system, namely the Sutlej, the
Beas and the Ravi were developed over the years as an integrated unit, which also
integrated with the Yamuna to a degree. The Narwana Branch canal of the Bhakra system
allows Sutlej waters to be used in the WJC areas. As is known, the Narwana branch
intercepts the old Sirsa branch of WJC and takes over a part of its command. In addition,
another link has been made near Khanawri village of Patiala district to augment the
supplies of the Sirsa branch to serve its tail end area. These made it possible for increased
intensities in the WJC command as also irrigate new areas.
The natural flow in the River Yamuna at Tajewala generally varies from over
300,000 cusec during the monsoon to a low of 800 cusec during lean season. This is
understandable, as there is no storage reservoir upstream. Each year, whenever the flow
exceeds 70,000 cusec, WJC is closed to prevent its choking by the boulders and silt
carried by the river. Hence, both during high flows in the Yamuna and low periods, WYC
is supplemented from the Bhakra dam. Haryana’s share in the waters of the Sutlej, Ravi
and Beas is thus delivered through the integrated operation network involving Bhakra.
BBMB recently14 analysed the operational data of the last 15 years which reveals
that the extent of Bhakra waters used in the WYC command is not insignificant and has
been 20 -30 % on an annual basis. It is higher in the low season. This was after
accounting for the contribution of Yamuna waters through the Sirsa branch during the
monsoon. A comparison was made of the actual areas annually irrigated in Haryana by
the Bhakra and WYC systems. This showed that, right since the formation of Haryana as
a separate state in 1966, the area irrigated by Bhakra has always been higher that that by
WYC. In 2003 Bhakra canal irrigated 1.21 m.ha in Haryana against 0.84 m. ha in WYC.
Even this 0.84 m. ha included the contribution from Bhakra waters to the tune of 27%.
BBMB, August 2005, Comments on the Report “Unravelling Bhakra”- mimeo
6. Planning and designs of Bhakra
No useful purpose will be served to comment now on the planning of the project
after fifty years. However MAK had chosen to make many comments thereon. It has been
further noted that even as MAK presented the details of the Bhakra-Nangal project, it
loaded it with irrelevant information and introduced many slants. Perhaps this was done
in order to strengthen their preconceived conclusion that it was not a well planned
measure and that simpler alternatives could have achieved the same objectives. A few of
the slants are of significance and these are discussed here.
6.1 Point 1
MAK states - “ by the early 1900s “Punjab had an extensive, highly developed irrigation
system.” Even after Partition, in1949-1950 before Bhakra project, “Punjab had 35.3 % of
its sown area irrigated and the figure for PEPSU was 42.6 This was the highest in the
whole country! Together, PEPSU and Punjab accounted for 13 % of the country’s
irrigated area, while it had 5.89 % of the country’s total sown area”……”Punjab at that
time was a leading producer of wheat, maize and gram in the country” ( p.xviii).
Comment on Point 1
There was no doubt that the undivided province of Punjab in British India was
better off agriculturally. East Punjab lost this advantageous position on 15 August 47.
When partition of India took place, nearly four fifths of the irrigation system developed
in the Punjab went to Pakistan, together with some of the most fertile agricultural areas.
The presentation of the figure of irrigated area in the early fifties as a percent of
the sown area in Punjab and PEPSU seeks to only confuse the real issue. With what East
Punjab had by way of irrigated agriculture, before Bhakra came in, it did not produce
even enough food grains to feed the people of the state, not to speak of the millions of
refugees who poured in suddenly and had to be fed.
6.2 Point 2
MAK alleges that the decision to build Bhakra and its design were motivated more by the
desire to strengthen the negotiating positions “in the inter-state disputes between the
provinces of Sind and Punjab” of British days (carried over later into an Indo-Pakistan
dispute), than the “interests of taking water to dry areas ( p.xix).”
Comment on Point 2
A dam across the Bhakra gorge was first proposed in 1908 for irrigating the arid
areas of Southeast Punjab. The 1919 project report considered that it would prove to be of
enormous benefit to the famine swept arid tracts. It was the only practicable solution to
protect that area. The colonial government took up the Sutlej valley project instead.
A.N.Khosla considered that political considerations had a good deal to do with that
Chhotu Ram, a minister in United Punjab, who worked with crusading zeal for the
betterment of the lot of the farmers, pressed hard for Bhakra. He argued that the Bhakra
dam was the first essential not only for banishing famine from South Punjab but also for
the prosperity of Punjab. When Punjab urged on its execution, downstream states like
Sind had expressed apprehensions about its likely effects on them. Instances of interstate
differences like these are seen in every river basin.
The pre-1947 British colonial administration had its own political interests but
there is nothing to show that independent India went for Bhakra on political grounds. In
May 1948, even West Punjab government recognized the “ natural anxiety of the East
Punjab government to discharge the obligation to develop areas where water is scarce and
which was underdeveloped in relation to parts of West Punjab.” It is incorrect to say that
addressing the water needs of dry areas was not the main concern behind Bhakra.
6.3 Point 3
MAK alleges that
“The startling finding was that Bhakra did not add any new areas under irrigation- it only
transferred or shifted the irrigation from one set of areas to another- from areas that were
already irrigated to other areas (. p xix).
Comment on Point 3
It is absolutely incorrect to say that Bhakra did not bring under irrigation new
areas. Bhakra brought 2.37 million ha of new gross command under irrigation, in addition
to improving the already existing irrigation.
The British administration, which ruled India before 1947, sought to preempt the
flows of the Sutlej to serve vast areas in west Punjab that could have been served by the
other rivers of the Indus system. This unjust situation changed following Partition and the
Indus Waters Treaty. India got the right to use the entire flows of the Sutlej for beneficial
purposes in Indian territory and Bhakra did just that. The Sutlej valley areas (now in
Pakistan) continue to be irrigated by the waters of the western rivers of the Indus system.
6.4 Point 4
MAK states that-
“We learnt that the Bhakra dam was an over designed dam. Even after the Sutlej waters
were augmented by the transfer of Beas water to the Bhakra reservoir, it has not filled up
in most of the years” ( p.xix).
….Bhakra dam has not filled up to the Maximum reservoir level in most of the years of
“…the dam has been over-designed and the height of the dam was not justified
considering Sutlej hydrology (p.140).”
Comment on Point 4
What exactly was meant by the term ‘overdesigned’ has not been clarified. The
circumstantial indications are that because the reservoir had not filled in all the years, the
storage capacity provided is too high and that constitutes an overdesign.
. Before commenting on the extent to which the reservoir filled each year, one
should fully understand the reservoir management principles and regulations adopted for
Bhakra in order to serve its multiple purposes optimally. For instance flood management
considerations would limit the extent of desired filling at different periods of the filling
season In nature, there are good, mean and bad flow years and the project is designed to
meet the conditions of the mean or optimal year. The natural flows differ from year to
year. The filling period of the reservoir is taken as from 21 May to 20 September each
year. It is, therefore, relevant to point out that the reservoir could not be expected to fill
upto the FRL of 1680 feet every year. In years when the snowfall and rains are below
normal the FRL may not be achieved. The effort of the project is to reach within 10 feet
of the FRL at least in low flow years.
Owing to Treaty obligations we were also not free to fill the reservoir as we liked
till March 1970.In the 35 years after1970 and till 2005, the reservoir indeed filled in 20
years upto1680 plus/minus 10 feet, that is 57% of the years.
As regards the possibility of the planners having gone for a lower height of the
dam, BBMB had shown that this would not have been possible. If the FRL would have
been kept a hundred feet lower, then over 110 MAF water would have spilled and flowed
downstream wastefully in post-Bhakra years.
It is interesting to find that MAK is concerned about the reservoir not filling up
every year but has remained silent about the flood management implications thereof.
MAK had also alleged that the irrigation planned was an exaggerated figure, as
the requisite storage was not provided for. This is also incorrect. The project indicated the
area to be irrigated as well as the water allowances, irrigation intensities and capacity
factors. The parameters having been fixed by the crop planning committee, the crop
pattern that could be sustained by it had to be devised within that framework. The area to
be irrigated as indicated in the project was not exaggerated.
6.5 Point 5
“MAK says-…”is there any other way that these areas could have been served? We find
that the answers are an emphatic Yes……It was clear that there were real and tangible
alternatives, alternatives that could have served the country better (p.xxiii).
Comment on Point 5
This point has been fully discussed later in chapter 9
7. Bhakra and Food Production
7.1 Point 1
The Bhakra project did not produce any dramatic impact on the country’s food
grain situation. Irrigation from the Bhakra-Nangal project began in 1954, increased
rapidly, and reached close to its full potential by 1963. Yet, India’s food grain production
had continued to deteriorate and food imports reached an all-time high in 1966…..
20 years after irrigation deliveries started from a project that is supposed to have brought
self-sufficiency to India, we were still importing huge quantities of food (p. xix).
“The irrigation from the Bhakra-Nangal project began in 1953-54”… by the time
the dam was completed by 1963-64, it was fully developed. “For all practical purposes
this was full development of irrigation from the project” (p.60). “Yet, throughout this
period, the country was importing food grains” (p.60)…… “even in 1972, 18 years after
irrigation from Bhakra–Nangal had commenced, India was miles away from food self-
sufficiency (p 60)……” For a project claimed as liberator of India from food dependency,
it is a telling commentary that food grain imports and deficits remained high” (p 61).
Comment on point 1
Though the figures were given for all the years from 1950-51, they were
deliberately split into two parts (Fig 5.1 on p.80 and fig.5.2 on p.87). Obviously, the trick
employed by the author for portraying a modest growth in agricultural production is in
the choice of years made for the comparison of pre and post- project scenes. Moreover,
he attributes the rapid increase in the later years only to green revolution.
It is incorrect to state that by 1963-64, the entire irrigation to be provided under
the BNP had been fully developed. In Table 3.2, Dharmadhikary quoted year-wise
figures for the area irrigated between 1951 and 1963, citing a personal communication as
the source. This shows that irrigation commenced 3 years before even the Nangal barrage
was opened and that development was completed even before the dam was finished. It is
not clear why he chose to ignore the year-wise figures of irrigation given in the official
BBMB publication of 1988 (p 280), from which he has often quoted.
There are three equally relevant considerations to be kept in mind with regard to
full irrigation development namely, the physical completion of works, the freedom to fill
the Bhakra reservoir under the Indus Waters treaty (1960) and the year in which the
reservoir became full for the first time.
The physical works were completed by October 1963. In all irrigation works,
there is a certain minimum period allowed for development, particularly in newly
irrigated tracts. We are not aware of the position in this regard in Bhakra. Also, any new
reservoir is not filled up at one go but in stages. More important than all these is the fact
that India was not free under the IWT to fill up the reservoir as desired till 1970.
Article II of the IWT says that all the waters of the ‘Eastern Rivers’ (defined as
the Sutlej, the Beas and the Ravi) shall be available for the unrestricted use of India,
except as otherwise provided. There was a Transition period that ended on 31 March
1970) during which Pakistan was to receive for unrestricted use the waters of the Eastern
Rivers, which were to be released by India (as per the provisions of Annexure H).
Under Annexure H provisions, so far as the Sutlej was concerned, India agreed to
limit its “withdrawals at Bhakra, Nangal, Rupar, Harike and Ferozpore, including
abstractions for storage by Bhakra dam” to the figures specified.
These provisions of the IWT severely limited the areas that could be irrigated
from diversions at Nangal/Rupar, as also storage of the waters at Bhakra till 1970. Partial
storage and depletion commenced in 1958. Some problems, however, arose in 1960.
After 1961, it was partially filled in and depleted each year, subject to IWT provisions
and natural factors. It was only in September 1973 that the full reservoir level was
reached for the first time.
There was, certainly, partial (mostly Kharif season) irrigation development till the
early 1960s, based on run-of the river and later based on whatever storage was possible
till the early 1970s. The maximum reservoir level reached in any year till 1965 having
been only 484.9 m or 1591 feet, which is about hundred feet lower than the full reservoir
level, the question of developing the full extent of irrigation by 1965 does not arise.
The initiation of the ‘Green Revolution’ (GR) in Punjab/Haryana was around
1967-68, when India imported 18,000 tonnes of HYV seeds for the first time. Thereafter,
it spread quickly. It, thus, happened that the full development of Bhakra irrigation more
or less coincided with the spread of the green revolution. Punjab, which was producing
less than 2 million tonnes (m.t) of wheat in 1965-66 stepped it up to over 5 m.t by 1970-
1971, crossed 6 m.t by 1976-77 and reached 10 m.t by 1984-85. Similarly, Haryana,
which produced about 1 mt. in 1966-67, crossed 2 m.t by 1969-70, passed above 3 m.t in
1978-79 and reached 5 m.t by 1985—86. The case of rice production was similar.
India’s import of food grains also tapered off after the mid-1970s.
Dharmadhikary has not clarified who claimed that the BNP was going to be the
“liberator of India from food dependency.” The Project report had not claimed this, but
only stated that it would assist in the reduction of food grain imports. Dharmadhikary
himself has stated (on p. 36) that the project claimed a food grain production of 1.13 m.t
only. This is another ploy used to denigrate the project by knowingly attributing to it an
exaggerated “claim to fame”, or by creating the status of an icon and then going hammer
and tongs to prove that it was untenable. This technique has been used in many instances
in the Manthan study. The features and achievements of the Project are invariably
compared with something larger to make it appear smaller. An earlier Indian Water
Resources Society publication calls this psychological strategy a “draw a longer line”
IWRS, Delhi center, May, 2005-A brief rebuttal of “Unravelling Bhakra”, pages 1and 5.
7.2 Point 2
“In 1950-51 unified Punjab had about 6.13% of the India’s area under food grains
and it was producing 6.85 % of the country’s food grain output. ……through the next 12
years this ratio remained more or less constant or increased marginally. What this means
is that food production in Punjab and Haryana showed no extraordinary increase over the
all- India performance. Thus 10 years after BNP had become operational, agriculture in
Punjab and Haryana had not shown any exceptional performance. ‘Bhakra had not done
anything dramatic in 10 years’. … (page 79).
In terms of actual production, the production of food grains in (united) Punjab
increased from 3.483 m.tons to 5.932 m.tons from 1950-51 to 1962-63.The area under
food grains in Punjab during this period went up from 5.96 m. ha to 7.27 m.ha .Thus
while the area increased 1.217 times the food grains production increased 1.7 times. The
same figure for all India were 1.21 and 1.57…(page 79)
‘…...the actual production of foodgrains in (unified) Punjab increased from 3.489
m tons to 5.932 m. tons from 1950-51 to 1962-63’ ( p. 79).
Comment on Point 2
The full irrigation development under Bhakra has to be reckoned with respect to a
date beyond the early 1970s, for the reasons explained under Point 1. A summarized table
showing the area and production of food grains in India and the states of Punjab and
Haryana from 1965-66 to 2000-01, prepared on the basis of figures given in the Manthan
report, is given below.
Area and Production of Foodgrains
All India, Punjab and Haryana
Area in million ha and production in million tonnes
Year All India Punjab Haryana
Area Production Area Production Area Production
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
1960-61 115.58 82.02 3.042 3.159 3.721 2.755
1965-66 115.10 72.35 3.097 3.389 3.023 1.985
1970-71 124.32 108.42 3.927 7.305 3.868 4.771
1975-76 128.18 121.03 4.317 8.821 4.211 5.040
1980-81 126.67 129.59 4.854 11.921 3.963 6.036
1985-86 128.02 150.44 5.388 17.221 4.043 8.147
1990-91 127.84 176.39 5.673 19.222 4.079 9.559
1995-96 121.01 180.42 5.706 19.806 4.021 10.172
2000-01 121.05 196.81 6.277 25.318 4.340 13.294
Source: Dharmadhikary, ‘Unravelling Bhakra’, Pages A-20,A-32 and A-40
Note: The corresponding figures given in the Statistical abstracts of Punjab and Haryana
differ in some cases, but the deviations are insignificant.
It is seen from the table that the total production of foodgrains in India in 1985-86
was about double that in 1965-66. In Punjab, the total foodgrains production in 1985-86
was more than five times that of 1965-66. In the case of Haryana, it was over four times
that of 1965-66. The significant increase in Punjab and Haryana is the result of the
synergy between irrigation and the other inputs of the ‘green revolution package’. It is
impossible to state how much is due to Bhakra and how much to the other factors. But
nothing would have been possible without irrigation.
7.3 Point 3
“Around 1967 came the Green Revolution (GR)”,….. primarily with the advent of
high yielding variety (HYV) seeds. These needed increased inputs like chemical
fertilizers, pesticides, cheap credit, minimum support prices and, of course, water. It was
said that “Bhakra was the key in enabling the GR” and that it “helped increase production
by allowing hitherto wastelands being brought into cultivation”. The study by MAK
found that the ground realities were quite different. Substantial increase in the cultivated
area was only in the dry belt of Haryana in the Hisar tracts. The contribution to food grain
production (FGP) was very limited. Irrigation was a crucial component in the GR but
Bhakra itself played a limited role. Bhakra accounted for less than a third of the Haryana
area and less than a fifth of Punjab. p. xx ).
The Study says that “several serious issues” were raised in the context of the
Green Revolution and lists (on p. 95) five important concerns. These are:
i) lacklustre performance of non-wheat crops
ii) inequities that follow as that between big and small farmers
iii) regional imbalance
iv) ecological consequences
v) heavy mechanization displacing labour
After listing all of them, it was stated that the study would not go into these issues, as
there was enough literature already on them.
Comment on point 3
The present critique, too, will not go into full detail on these stated concerns.
However, it needs to be said that all these were not found to be relevant in the case of the
states of Punjab and Haryana broadly, or Bhakra. The following sums up the position.
i) It is incorrect to say that increased food production or improved productivity was
limited only to wheat. Punjab and Haryana have consistently shown progressive
increase in production and productivity in respect of all food grains, rice and
wheat from 1970-71 till 1999-2000.
ii) The GR technology is scale neutral. A field study by G.S. Bhalla and Chadha in
Punjab during 1974-75 found that there was no significant difference in inputs
between different sizes of farms.16 As a result, farm income per acre did not show
any significant size-class difference.
iii) Admittedly there were differential improvements in production and productivity
in different states. It may be pertinent to help each region make the optimum use
of its development potential.
iv) The point about ecological consequences is vague. Such consequences relating to
Bhakra have been stated and commented upon elsewhere in this critique.
v) Punjab and Haryana resort to farm machinery. However, there is no evidence to
show that the labour input decreased due to this.
The details will not be examined here.
7.4 Point 4
MAK report examined the role of Bhakra in increased food production under
three headings (p.104), namely,
1. Bringing new area under cultivation- that is, increase in net area sown,
2. Multiple cropping-increase in gross area sown, and
3. Increase in per hectare yield.
The salient points made and the related comments are as under:
Comment on point 4
As regards item 1, Manthan studied the net area sown in Punjab/Haryana between
1950-51 and 1965-66. It conceded that “there is little doubt that irrigation from Bhakra
contributed to bringing in new areas under cultivation”, but added a rider that “this was
limited to few parts of the two states” (p. 105).
As noted earlier, under the limitations of the Indus Treaty, India was not free till
1970 to draw waters as desired from the natural flows of the Sutlej for the irrigation of
new areas. It was also not free to raise the storage at Bhakra between 1963 and 1970. The
period for full development should, therefore, be a date beyond 1965.
It has been repeatedly stated that “irrigation by Bhakra has been made possible
essentially by transferring irrigation from lands downstream that were already being
irrigated–and being irrigated without the dam” (p. 29), thus “depriving them of their then
existing water use and their future water rights” (p. 30).
Such a presentation is an obfuscation of facts. It ignores the partition as also the
Indus Waters Treaty of 1960. The British colonial government, for reasons of its own,
ignored the rightful claims to irrigation in semi-arid south Punjab, and pledged the Sutlej
and Beas waters to serve areas lower down in Western Punjab. After India was
partitioned in 1947 and Pakistan and India emerged as free nations, the position vastly
changed. India and Pakistan freely entered into the Indus Waters Treaty, which made
G.S. Bhalla and Chadha, Green revolution and the small peasant, Concept publishing co, Delhi, 1983.
available all the waters of the Sutlej, the Beas and the Ravi for India’s unrestricted use.
Taking care of the need for water in its territory in the lower regions became the
responsibility of Pakistan A transition period of ten years was agreed upon for Pakistan to
provide the replacement measures. India made a specified financial contribution to
Pakistan for this purpose. Dharmadhikary himself has referred to these (at p. 27).
The Bhakra command constituted new areas brought under irrigation in India.
“Sutlej valley project area” in Pakistan constituted irrigation through new replacement
works to areas already irrigated. In Haryana and Rajasthan, the entire area under Bhakra
was new irrigation. Parts of the old Gaggar, Sarsuti, Sirsa canal areas now receive
assured irrigation from Bhakra instead of the earlier precarious irrigation facility.
As regards 2, the statistical details given by Dharmadhikary on p. A26 for Punjab
and p.A 43 for Haryana show that the gross irrigated areas as a percentage of the net
irrigated area denoted a clear rising trend. His data is summarised below for reference.
Net and gross irrigated areas in Punjab and Haryana
(Area in million ha.)
Year Punjab Haryana
NIA GIA % NIA GIA %
1965-66 2.26 3.14 138.9 1.22 1.49 121.6
1970-71 2.89 4.24 146.7 1.53 2.23 145.6
1975-76 3.12 4.93 158.0 1.75 2.73 155.6
1980-81 3.38 5.78 171.0 2.13 3.31 155.1
1985-86 3.69 6.51 176.4 2.25 3.68 163.6
Note: NIA is net irrigated area, GIA is Gross irrigated area
% refers to Gross irrigated area / net irrigated area, expressed in percentage
Source Dharmadhikary, Manthan, Punjab p.A26 and Haryana p.A 43
As regards 3 too, the yield per hectare per hectare has constantly been on the rise
both in Punjab and Haryana. Here too, the statistical details given in MAK report will
prove this position. The summary is given in the table below.
Increasing trend of productivity in Punjab and Haryana
( in kilograms per hectare)
Year Total Food grains Rice Wheat
Punjab Haryana Punjab Haryana Punjab Haryana
1966-67 1259 736 1185 1161 1524 1425
1970-71 1860 1234 1765 1709 2238 2074
1980-81 2456 1523 2733 2602 2730 2360
1990-91 3388 2343 3229 2775 3715 3479
Source : Dharmadhikary, Manthan Punjab-p A 31-32 and Haryana p A 38and 40
To sum up, it is seen that under each of the three strategies for expanding food production
examined in the MAK Report Bhakra project convincingly scored. It brought significant
new areas under irrigation, it led to multiple cropping on the net area and it increased the
yield per unit area significantly.
7.5 Point 5
MAK report argues that while irrigation has played a very important role in food
grain production, “this role has been played essentially by ground water based irrigation
and canal irrigation has contributed to only a limited extent” (p 107). It considers that in
Punjab “canal irrigation is about 24% of total irrigation” and in Haryana, “the ground
water and canal irrigation have played an equal role” (p 108).
MAK report goes on to say that- “To credit the “success” of Punjab and Haryana
to Bhakra and Bhakra alone is absurd- but that is the general perception” (p 108). “Even
in the Bhakra commanded areas, there has been a huge explosion in the ground water
use,….. Bhakra irrigation is primarily concentrated on the three districts of Hisar, Sirsa
and Fatehabad, which account for about 75% of Bhakra ‘s irrigation in the state” (p 108).
Comment on point 5
All statistical compilations give the source-wise break-up of the net irrigated area,
for instance, that from canals and that from wells/tubewells. However, in respect of the
gross irrigated area, such a break-up is unavailable. It is amazing that statistics of actual
gross irrigated area by type of irrigation are not given in the land utilisation database.
Therefore, it is not possible to state how much of the gross irrigation was from canals and
how much from wells/tubewells.
There are two important points to be noted in relation to conjunctive use of
surface and ground waters. The farmers in the Bhakra command of Punjab and Haryana
are using marginal and saline water in combination with canal water. This cannot be
possible without the use of canal water. Besides in areas where groundwater is of poor
quality, canal irrigation dilutes the saline groundwater and over the years a fresh water
lens is formed over the saline water. The rural communities exploit these lenses for
drinking and irrigation purposes. Ground water use in this manner was possible only due
to the expansion of the canal irrigation.
MAK report recognized that details are not available on Bhakra command area
lying in the different districts. It sought to estimated it from maps and other information
(see p 46). Despite this, it could not arrive at the figures for Bhakra irrigation in Punjab.
MAK, however, worked this out for Haryana. (Table 4.8 on pp. 46-47 and Table 4.11 on
p. 50). These show that the net area irrigated by the canal was around 50 % for the state
as a whole in 1998-99. However, in the nine districts which wholly or partly lie in the
Bhakra command, it is around 58%. If we considered only the 3 districts in which
“Bhakra irrigation is concentrated” the position would be as below:
Area irrigated (1998-99) in three main districts of Haryana in the Bhakra command
S.no District Area in Net area irrigated in thousand ha. % of canal
Bhakra Canals Tubewells Total area to
1 Hisar 60% 243 9 252 96.4
2 Sirsa 100% 262 47 309 84.8
3 Fatehabad 100% 136 60 196 69.4
.Total of three Districts NA 641 116 757 84.7
These figures do not support the comment that “canal irrigation accounted for only to a
little extent” in Punjab and Haryana (see p.107).
The Bhakra command in the state of Rajasthan is limited to only two districts-
namely Ganganagar and Hanumangarh. Dharmadhikary has inserted the basic data
relating to these districts in Table 4.7 (on p. 46) of the MAK report, without drawing any
inference therefrom. The relevant figures extracted therefrom are reproduced below.
Bhakra Command districts in Rajasthan-Irrigation data
(area in hectares)
S.no District Gross area Gross irrigated area Tubewell area
irrigated expressed as %
by Bhakra Canals Tubewells Total of total area
1 Ganganagar 113,105 785,514 1,345 786,859 0.17
2 Hanumangarh 395,577 541,879 7,666 549,853 1.39
Total-2 Dts 508,682 1,327,393 9,011 1,336,712 0.67
Source: Table 4.7, page 46,’Unravelling Bhakra’, Dharmadhikary,
Source cited by him-Agricultural Statistics, 2000-01, Government of Rajasthan
These figures clearly show that tubewells accounted for much less than a fraction
of one percent of the total area irrigated in the two Rajasthan districts irrigated by Bhakra
As regards the statement that a claim has been made that the success of Punjab
and Haryana “goes to the credit of Bhakra and Bhakra alone”, Dharmadhikary does not
say who the claimant was and how he concluded this to be the general perception. This is
yet another instance of first creating a larger than life icon of something that one despises
so that it could then become the target of the iconoclast for his attack.
8. Ground Water
The main points made by MAK about the role of groundwater vis- a- vis Bhakra in the
agricultural prosperity of the region are examined as under.
8.1 Point 1
“Farmers at many places told (us) that the quantity of water they got from the
canals is very limited….The situation is not surprising since the Bhakra canals were
meant to be used for protective irrigation, and not for intensive cultivation…. (page 115).
Comment on point 1
It is a fact that the crop pattern, water allowance and capacity factors for the new
irrigation under the Project were all determined in the early 1950s. The areas to be served
by the Bhakra canal system were broadly classified under three zones-
Zone I- near the hills, with good monsoon rain as in Bist-Doab, south of Patiala -
Restricted perennial, water allowance 2.25 cusec/ 1000 acres CCA- at 45% intensity
Zone II Riverine area with high spring level and situated close to the river-
Non Perennial, water allowance 3.5 cusec/1000 acres CCA – 35% intensity, and
Zone III Dry and arid areas like Hisar, Rajasthan etc, with meagre uncertain
rainfall -Perennial, water allowance 2.75 cusec/1000 acres CCA, 62% intensity.
The participating states accepted in August 1951 the areas to be included within
the irrigation boundaries, water allowances, capacity factors and intensities.
It is also a fact that the cultivators have changed the cropping pattern over the
years. This is a complex issue as the agriculturists will grow only those crops that they
deem advantageous to them, based on the market forces, minimum support prices,
procurement policies and a host of matters emanating out of the agricultural policy from
time to time. All that the Project could strive for was to deliver, in an average year, the
water supply as indicated under the project.
Hence, if in a semi-arid area they wished to raise two successive crops of rice and
wheat, for instance, they may need to supplement the canal irrigation with tubewells,
where feasible. If something went wrong in this process of adding ground water without
adequate drainage and water logging resulted, how can Bhakra be blamed for it?
An interesting point to be noted is the dualism in the arguments. Sometimes,
Manthan presents selective quotes and arguments by critics, alleging shortage of Bhakra
canal irrigation water (as in the present case) and, elsewhere, accuses canal irrigation of
causing serious waterlogging in the Bhakra command. In chapter 11 on ‘Water-logging
and salinisation’, Dharmadhikary alleges that “vast areas are affected by water-logging
and salinity in Punjab and Haryana including in the command area of the Bhakra project”
(p.172). He also quotes a number of farmers on waterlogging (pp.175-180). We shall deal
with the issue of waterlogging in chapter 11.
8.2 Point 2
“…far more important than canal irrigation-whether from Bhakra or anywhere else- has
been the role of ground water. ……the explosive growth in the groundwater use-
especially with tubewells, that has been the real driving force behind the GR….
……Tubewell productivity is documented to be more than one and half times canal
productivity ( p.xxi).
“ It is often argued that TW irrigation in the two states was made possible by the canals.
…..TWs are lifting the water that had seeped from the canal and this is given as a major
contribution of Bhakra. But this is widely off the mark. Large part of the GW “drawn by
the tubewells in the two states is the mining of old accumulations (p.xxi).
MAK holds that 43-46 % of all agricultural production in Punjab is based on such
unsustainable mined ground water. For Haryana, the figure is 35 % (p.xxi).
The productivity of land per net area irrigated by private wells is much higher
than that for canal irrigated land. Some specific figures for Haryana and Punjab are given
by MAK. An article by B.D. Dhawan published in a weekly in 1977 is cited as the
authority. It is stated that the World Bank Review 1991 supported this (page 118).
Comment on point 2
Deputy Director General, Indian Council of Agricultural Research had worked
out a scenario where the present cropping pattern and intensity are to be maintained in the
Bhakra canal command based only on ground water resources, assuming non- availability
of canal water.17 The water table under such a scenario would have declined at the rate of
2.45 to 2.30 m per annum in Punjab and Haryana respectively. The current ground water
resources cannot maintain the present the cropping pattern and productivity for more than
5 to 10 years. The actual figure of 0.3 to 0.6 m only indicates the tremendous contribution
of the canals in maintaining ground water resources. Alternatively centrifugal pumps
would have been replaced by submersible pumps with 4or 5 times higher investments.
It is highly simplistic to assume that every single hectare of private-well irrigated
areas in Punjab produced 1.72 times that of the canal irrigated area, or that, similarly, in
Haryana, the productivity of every hectare by private wells was 2.375 times that of the
canal irrigated area. It is seen that Dhawan’s figures are based on a “theoretical foodgrain
energy equivalent” basis.
Dharmadhikary himself admits that it is a complex task to try and segregate the
contribution of groundwater and canal irrigation. He has listed on p.119 the difficulties
Samra,J.S, Deputy Director general, ICAR,Growth and sustainibility of agriculture production due to
Bhakra project in Haryana and Punjab, A paper presented at the Workshop held bt CBI&P in New Delhi on
4 August, 2005
and pitfalls in undertaking such a task but he, nevertheless, went ahead with this task,
based on his assumptions. His is not the first such attempt in this regard; he seems to have
followed the footsteps of Himanshu Thakkar who had made a similar attempt in his
“Thematic Review Assessment of Irrigation Options” prepared for WCD in 1999 as an
input (see para 3.3 and Table 4 in particular).
There are different types of wells/tubewells and their running depends on the type
of power used for lifting. Dharmadhikary assumes that10 HP motor will run for 10 hours
a day for 200 days in a year. He has not explained the basis for this. If electrically driven,
it is also relevant to know if the power supply is given free, subsidized or on a cost-
recovery basis. Even more relevant would be the question of whether there were power
cuts, and their type, duration and time of the day/night. If canal irrigated, one should find
whether the supply was as per the project schedule and, if rotationally supplied, the
details thereof. The timeliness, adequacy and regulation by ground water extraction are
dependent on these and other related factors. In both cases, the details of inputs used are
needed. Equally relevant would be the question of whether any crop cutting estimations
on a micro/minor/major level were done to ascertain actual yields before adopting the
average figures on a statewide basis.
It is absurdly simplistic to state that “ the productivity of tubewell irrigated areas
is 1.7 times the canal irrigated areas, and the productivity of irrigated areas overall (i.e.
both canal and tubewell areas) is 2.5 times the productivity of unirrigated areas” (page
119). Dharmadhikary has attributed that “the ratio of productivity of irrigated vs
unirrigated areas” is from the WCD India country study (2000). Being part of the team
that prepared this report, the author can state that this and the other assumptions made in
the food production estimate were the view of only one member out of the team of four,
with which the others did not agree. Chapter 7 - makes this clear.
8.3 Point 3
The extent of contribution to food production by seepage from canals recharging
ground water has been estimated in the study and is stated to be small (pp. 120-123).
Comment on point 3
These calculations are all based on many simplistic, non-unverified (and some
non –verifiable) assumptions. These cannot be accepted without further proof. First, there
is an assumption that 60% of all ground water recharge comes from canals. Secondly, the
total water used by the current cropping pattern is taken as 34 MAF in the case of Punjab
and 26.46 MAF in the case of Haryana. The estimation of the total water is a complex
issue, which has been oversimplified here.
8.4 Point 4
While analyzing the possible contribution of Bhakra power towards running of
the pumps, three points are made. It is stated that i) power generation from Bhakra is
around 6500 million units ii) there was severe power crisis which had its impact on
agricultural production, and iii) Bhakra power was sufficient for running only 28% of the
number of tubewells (p.123).
Comment on point 4
Hydropower generation is an important primary objective of the Bhakra-Nangal
Project. As pointed out at the outset, an evaluation of the performance of the project
would be incomplete without a study of the power aspect. The total installed capacity of
hydropower units was 1205 M.W as initially commissioned in stages between 1955 and
1968. The present installed capacity is even higher at 1480 MW. It generates around 7000
million units of power in a year. The project has generated, between the years 1955 and
2000, over 211 billion kWh of power. The cost of generation even now is very low (a
small fraction of a rupee per unit). All these should have been stated, examined and taken
note of, instead of casually sneaking in the figure, as has been done here.
The Project report never claimed that all the power generated or any specified
portion thereof was for running tubewells. The purpose behind stating that the hydro
power generated by the project would meet only a part of the pumps installed seems to be
to belittle its high power generation performance. (The reference to power cuts is to
further lower the contribution.) This is another case of comparing it with a ‘longer line’
merely to show that, after all, it is smaller than what it is compared with.
8.5 Point 5
It is summed up that, based on the various assumptions made, the contribution of
Bhakra to the agricultural production in the state is 11% for Punjab and 24% for Haryana
“One cannot escape the startling conclusion that much of Punjab and Haryana’s
growth could have still been possible even if Bhakra dam had not been built” (page 126).
Comment on point 5
There have been many unverifiable, simplistic and unacceptable assumptions
made while arriving at the conclusion above. Many of these have been detailed earlier in
Punjab and Haryana’s spectacular growth could never have been possible without
the Bhakra-Nangal Project.
As the subject matter of the Manthan study was to evaluate the role and
performance of the Bhakra-Nangal Project, it must be concluded that, contrary to the
assertion of Dharmadhikary, all that the Project Report had stated as its objectives have
been more than fulfilled. In addition, the project is playing a significant and crucial role
in fostering the prosperity of Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana and Delhi in northwest India.
9. Without Bhakra
9.1 Point 1
Chapter 9 of the report begins by stating -
“……while Punjab and Haryana have had spectacular growth in food grains production,
a very limited part of this can be attributed to the Bhakra project itself”( p. 135).
It later asserts that-
“ it is not likely that the scenario in Punjab and Haryana would have been much different
without Bhakra” (p. 142).
The MAK summed it up in the overview thus:- “However limited the production from
Bhakra, the question can be asked- was there any other way to achieve this? In particular,
the areas of Hisar tracts in Haryana, which were dry and semi-arid area, with much of the
groundwater of poor quality--and today boast of lush green fields- is there any other way
that these areas could have been served?……..the answers are an emphatic yes” (p xxii).
In support, it first quotes Ramaswamy R. Iyer18. He says “…it is fallacious to
equate the non-undertaking of a large project with -‘ not doing’. The choice is not
between doing a project and not doing anything; there are other things (such as demand
management, conservation, local water harvesting, etc.) that can be done.”
To all those who ask the question “ where would the country have been without
Bhakra-Nangal?” - Iyer’s speculative answer is—
“We know the Bhakra Nangal ‘scenario’ because that is what actually happened; we do
not know what the alternative history would have been if it had not come into existence.
However, we need not readily assume that there would have been an absence of
development on the agricultural front. Understandably, data and information are available
in respect of the routes (of large projects) actually taken and not in respect of the
alternative routes that have not been explored..… (pp. 135-136 of the MAK publication)).
Dharmadhikary adds - “ If the country had chosen to plan its development without
Bhakra, or more precisely, without the approach that Bhakra represented, then it would
most likely have chosen land reforms, a decentralised, rainwater harvesting, soil water
conservation program, coupled with a host of other decentralised measures (p 148).”
Comment on Point 1
At the outset, it should be noted that both Iyer and Dharmadhikary have only
talked of alternate way of achieving agricultural production and are silent about all the
other benefits like hydro-power, flood control, industrial development, rehabilitation of
partition refugees etc.
Even if agricultural production was the sole consideration, how would one know
if the ‘other things’ suggested could, in fact, have delivered the results?
Iyer, Ramaswamy R, Water Perspectives, Issues, Concern, Sage publications, New Delhi, 2003, p 132
Iyer makes an anodyne statement--
“All that one can do is to point to the successful instances of watershed
development and social transformations, and say that there is no reason why these cannot
be replicated in large numbers” (p. 133 of his book).
Is this sufficient assurance, particularly when Iyer himself refers (on pp. 341-2 of
his book) to a “decline” in Sukhomajri in the results from these measures and lists
difficulties that arose with the passage of time?
By contrast, Dharmadhikary seems more confident. He says in the overview--
“Villages like Sukho Majri show how local water harvesting, diversity of cropping and
use of organic inputs can lead to high yields and minimal debts for the farmers” (p.xxvi)
In the concluding chapter, he says-
“During our visit to Haryana we visited Sukho Majri, a place that is now famous
nationally and internationally for its rainwater harvesting and soil water conservation
efforts. Sukho Majri was in complete contrast to what we had seen in rest of
He then goes on to laud its achievements like large variety of crops, great use of organic
manure, comparable if not higher yields of crops and very few farmers being in debts.
What were the alternatives available to Bhakra for irrigated agriculture? Minor
irrigation schemes without large dams and micro rainwater-harvesting structures?
In his presidential address at the annual conference of the Indian Society of
Agricultural Economics, B. D. Dhawan said in December 199719 :-
“While major irrigation has been scrutinised critically by big dam opponents for
its numerous drawbacks, the same spirit of critical scrutiny is altogether missing in
respect of their portrayal of minor irrigation as an ideal alternative. As a result of such an
unbalanced critique, people are left with an erroneous impression that major irrigation is
an altogether ill-conceived and unwarranted irrigation, while minor irrigation is an ideal
choice, cost-effective, dependable and self-sufficient. That minor irrigation too suffers
from serious shortcomings and limitations has just not been probed by its votaries.-----
Irrigation engineers have for long underlined the undependability of wells and
tanks during drought years. The CMI (Census of Minor irrigation) data provide eloquent
testimony to this…..”
What about micro rainwater-harvesting structures? The MAK report had pointed
out that most of the irrigation from Bhakra was in the State of Haryana, largely in the
semi-arid Hisar region. Still, Haryana has enough experience of watershed management
measures involving micro rainwater-harvesting structures. In the Shiwalik hills of
Haryana which receive higher rainfall, many small check dams and rainwater harvesting
structures, spread over 60 villages, were constructed between 1976 and 1996. The Central
Dhawan,B.D.1997, Presidential address at the 57 th Annual conference of the Indian Society of
Agricultural Economics held at Pantnagar in December, 1997, Mimeo, p. 4.
Soil and Water Conservation Research and Training Institute (CSWCRTI) undertook a
comprehensive survey of 27 of these villages covering more than half of these structures
over a period of three years (1996-1999). The findings of this study were reported in an
Sukhomajri, often referred to as one of the few examples of successful rainwater-
harvesting, lies in the Shiwalik hills of Haryana. Participatory watershed management
was initiated by the CSWCRTI at Sukhomajri village in the 1970s.A small dam was built
here in 1976 as a part of a package of watershed management measures. Thereafter, 102
water- harvesting reservoirs were constructed in 60 villages of Haryana lying in this area.
The Haryana Forest Department built most of them. Simultaneously, Hill Resource
Management Societies (HRMS) were also constituted to manage the common property
resources generated in these villages.
Sample some of the CSWCRTI findings, pertinent to the present critique :-
1. 53 water-harvesting structures were built between 1976 and 1996 in the 27
villages. The survey involved in-depth interviews, informants and observations.
2. The summary of statistics relating to them is given below:-
i) Total number of structures surveyed 53
ii) Structures that failed immediately 20
iii) Distribution pipes not provided at all 14
iv) Partial distribution system provided 9
v) Structures that worked for 1 to 5 years 11
vi) Structures that were working in 1996-97 13
3.There were big gaps between the proposed and actual command in all 53 cases.
These 53 structures were planned and designed to irrigate 2518.7 ha of land.
However, the actual area irrigated in 1996-97 was only 417.3 ha or 16.6%.
4. In Sukhomajri village, 4 water harvesting structures were built one after the
other in 1976, 1978, 1980 and 1985, respectively. 3 of them did not irrigate any
area by 1998-99. Their inlet tanks and main pipelines were clogged with silt. Only
one structure, built for a command of 24 ha, was serving 10.2 ha in 1998-99.Thus,
as against a designed command of 39 ha, 10.2 ha received irrigation in 1998-99.
5. Two micro-dams were built at Bunga village to provide irrigation to 511 ha. By
1998-99, the irrigation area declined to half of the planned command as a result of
heavy silting and there is apprehension that the irrigation might cease soon.
6. In Nada village 8 micro water-harvesting structures were built between 1980
and 1996. Four of these were not irrigating any area in 1998-99. Two dams
breached. The inlet well and pipeline were silted up in most of them.
Arya Swarnalata and J.S Samra: Revisiting watershed management institutions in Haryana Shivaliks,
Central Soil and Water Conservation Research and Training Institute, Chandigarh, 2001.
7. The dams Nada VII and Nada VIII were constructed even while heated
discussions and meetings were going on about repair and maintenance of the other
existing non-functional dams in the same village. Unfortunately, the department
had no budget for repairing these dams. Similarly, in Moginand, Ambwala and
Chowki, new dams were constructed while the earlier ones were non-functional.
8. In Jattanmajri, 2 water-harvesting structures were built in 1979. None were
functional in 1998-99. In one case, the dam had filled up with silt within 2 years
and in the other the inlet became clogged with silt in 5 years.
9. Many such structures were non-functional due to dam failure or high seepage
of water. Examples are the dams at Nada III, Khera & Basaula, Aasrewali,
Ambawala I, II and III, Dullopur, Naggal, and Mirpur &Thappal.
10. The functioning of the Sukhomajri HRMS had never been smooth despite the
fact that the president was often changed. Besides, the income and expenditure
accounts were not maintained regularly and properly. Most of its income came
from sale of Bhabbar and fodder grass and only a small percent from water
11. Even at the micro-level, conflicts in sharing arose. Sukhomajri and Damla had
conflicts about joint management of the forest area. Conflicts on sharing of
harvested rainwater arose between many villages sharing a common reservoir
Obviously, the MAK ‘s confidence is misplaced in these options in the light of the
evidence of the performance of these measures in Haryana. However, the purpose of
pointing out these shortcomings is not to decry or discourage small and micro water-
harvesting measures but to stress the need to be truthful while presenting research studies.
Another interesting point could be noted. Anti-dam activists often complain that
hardly any worthwhile performance analyses of dams completed long ago exists. The
WCD also lamented “ the lack of monitoring of the impacts of dams and the complete
failure to conduct proper ex-post evaluations of performance and impacts.”21 When the
performance study of the Bhakra-Nangal project, completed long ago, was presented,
they adopted an entirely new posture. Their comment –“We know this ‘scenario’
because this is what actually happened; we do not know what the alternative history
would have been if it had not come into existence. We cannot presume that the alternative
would not have achieved the same or even better results.”
9.2 Point 2
In a way, the irrigation in the Bhakra system was made possible more by the Partition and
shifting of waters from the SVP than the Bhakra dam itself (page 136).
World Commission on Dams, 2000, Dams and Development, Earthscan Publications, London, p. 184.
Comment on Point 2
This is a repetition of the point made earlier, which has been commented upon.
(See para 6.3-Point 3 and 7.4 point 4 with the comments.) It is incorrect to say that the
Partition made Bhakra irrigation possible. The author further obfuscates the matter by not
stating all the related items together.
At the cost of repetition, it must be recalled that the Indus Waters Treaty (1960)
signed by India and Pakistan enabled the full development of the Sutlej waters by India.
Article II says that all the waters of the ‘Eastern Rivers’ (defined as the Sutlej, the Beas
and the Ravi) shall be available for the unrestricted use of India, except as otherwise
expressly provided. Hence, India was not obliged to pass down any water of the Sutlej
beyond the border with Pakistan. However, India has to respect the needs and established
usage of water in the Indian area downstream, such as under the Sirhind canal.
The natural flow in the river during the period October to May is a small fraction
of the annual flow. The dependable flow in the low season was already under use in the
Sirhind canal. The Bhakra project enabled the use of the balance natural flow for the
benefit of India, as the IWT put the responsibility for taking care of the needs lower down
on Pakistan. The redistribution over space is enabled by the barrage and canal system.
9.3 Point 3
“…a significant part of the monsoon flow of Sutlej was being used at the Sutlej
valley projects (in India and Pakistan) and possibly also further downstream” (p. 139).
Thus, if allowance was made for this existing use, then there would have been virtually
no surplus. Partition allowed this water to be released for use in India (p.139).
The advantage claimed that the dam allowed monsoon surplus to be transferred to
winter months when demand was high and flows less- has been a limited benefit (p.139).
Another word about the carryover of monsoon storage into winter: this comes
with a heavy price tag. The price is not just the massive financial, social and other costs
of such dams, but includes the huge impacts downstream of such storages. Such storages
are altering the amount and pattern of downstream flows, changing the whole river
ecology and economy……. (p. 140).
Comment on point 3
The familiar obfuscation is noticed again in these arguments. Dharmadhikary has
pointed out that the monsoon flow (July-Sept) in the Sutlej is 62% of the annual mean. If
we consider the filling period as 21st May to the end of September, it is even higher.
Under the IWT signed after the Partition, India is allowed the full use of this entire
quantum in her territory. Whatever are the needs lower down are to be taken care of by
Pakistan. It, in fact, built a number of links based on the flows of the ‘Western rivers’ to
meet the needs of the Sutlej riverine tracts. There was no other way by which India could
store the monsoon surplus flows in the Sutlej except through the Bhakra dam. The main
purpose of the reservoir is to redistribute water over time by storing it when it is available
and releasing it later when it is required.
9.4 Point 4
An important benefit attributed to the dam is the regulation it provides, resulting
in better timing of irrigation water (p.140).
(However) this regulation, reliability and timeliness of irrigation has been provided
largely and in a much better way by the extensive development of tubewells and ground
water……We have already seen this in detail in the chapter on Ground water (page 141).
Comment on point 4
This is a repetition of an earlier point and has already been commented upon in
the section on ground water. Confusion in the MAK presentation over the role of
extraction from ground water continues to prevail. Punjab/Haryana, in general and the
Bhakra command in particular, are simultaneously stated to be waterlogged and irrigated
by ground water mining, and, moreover, that the ground water was providing timeliness,
reliability and regulation in irrigation.
9.5 Point 5
….even as we trumpet that we are now self-sufficient in food, that we now export
food, millions still go hungry in the country.” (p.xxv).
Perhaps the most serious, thought provoking and disturbing fact has been that in spite of
the huge increase in the food production, millions of people go hungry even today
The overall result (of the approach adopted) has been a remarkable expansion in food
grain production but without a parallel increase in the purchasing power of the millions
Comment on point 5
It is true that if the spectacular performance in food grains production is expressed
in per capita terms (with population as the denominator), much of its shine gets wiped
off. This issue involves the national policy in at least two other major sectors, namely
population and food & agriculture. This is not be the place for embarking on an analysis
of the population policy of the country and its successes and failures. There is also
considerable literature on entitlements and food security for the people. Unless the
inequality in purchase power is reduced, food for all would remain an unfulfilled
objective. However, the responsibility for sound national policies and good governance
that would benefit every Indian national cannot be placed solely on Bhakra, or for that
matter any such project.
10. Crisis in Punjab and Haryana Agriculture
Chapter 10 of the MAK report (pp. 149-168) deals with numerous agrarian issues
that go far beyond our focussed objective, namely, the study of the promise and
performance of Bhakra. The central criticism leveled is that the agrarian economies of
Punjab and Haryana are experiencing a deep crisis in recent years. The problems alleged
relate to a loss of diversity in the cropping pattern, increasing inputs, declining returns,
worsening economics of agriculture, indebtness of farmers and increasing instances of
suicides among them.
MAK report refers to a committee set up by the Punjab government under Dr. S.
S. Johl. In his report (2002), he had reportedly advocated reducing “overall dependence
on wheat and rice”. MAK, however, recognizes that- “ Unfortunately, it was easier said
than done” (p.160).
Some of the Punjab villagers interviewed told the MAK team that “things were
okay till about 15 years back. All the problems have started since then” (p.152). In
Haryana, they were told that “with the advent of Bhakra project the irrigation went up
and agricultural productivity increased”. MAK report, however, adds that this was
tempered with apprehension (p 153). Many made a reference to additional irrigation from
tubewells (p 153).
Issues relating to the agricultural and agrarian policies and such related matters
are beyond the scope of the present critique. The Chief Minister of Punjab has reportedly
drawn attention to some of these issues at the National Developmental Council meeting
held in June 2005.and sought viable solutions22. He had drawn specific attention to the
deteriorating socio-economic condition. He referred to the declining water table, increase
in cost of cultivation and increasing rural indebtedness. He urged that there was a dire
need to diversify the rice-wheat based cropping pattern. However, this is not easy to
achieve. J.S.Samra, DDG, ICAR, has pointed out that a survey “showed that about three-
fourths of paddy farmers did not prefer to reduce area under rice by even 10 percent”.
The state government plans to pay compensation to the farmers who agree to changeover.
The Chief minister and the state government have shown that they are aware of
the current problems faced by the Punjab farmers. The Report of the S.S Johl committee
(2002) was a result of this awareness. The various ameliorative measures suggested by
that committee are also matters well within their purview.
It is, however, noted that in the recent years there has certainly been less than the
required attention to maintenance of the extensive canal system under the Bhakra-Nangal
project. As the system has already functioned for over five decades, one cannot over-
emphasize the need for its adequate and timely maintenance as also rehabilitation and
upgradation due to several years of neglect attributed to inadequate provision of funds.
Source -Indian Express, Delhi, 28 June 2005
11.Waterlogging and salinisation
Chapter 11 of the MAK report (pp. 171-190) largely deals with waterlogging and
salinisation in the states of Punjab and Haryana. It laments that- “Unfortunately,
available data is often not categorized as per project commands; it is often only at the
state level, or categorized as per districts” (page 173).
Where farmers tend to over-irrigate by excessive water applications and where
improper water management practices prevail, the problem of waterlogging could arise.
An interdisciplinary inter-Ministry Working Group on “Waterlogging, soil salinity and
alkalinity” set up by the Government of India reported in December 1991 on various
issues. According to the Working Group, the extent of waterlogging in the Bhakra
command was i) nil in Rajasthan and ii) 49, 170 ha out of the total CCA of 1,166, 000
ha. in Haryana. In the case of Punjab, no project-wise figure was reported. However,
most of the waterlogging was reported to be in the Faridkot district.
Criticism of Bhakra
MAK holds that water logging and salinisation in the Bhakra command is a
serious issue. The specific comment on Bhakra is based on certain problem places visited
and the views of its villagers. Some cases from Punjab and Haryana that came to MAK
team’s notice are indicated.
People in village Badopal in Fatehabad district complained of waterlogging. It
became evident in 1978 and worsened thereafter (page 175). About 10 years ago, the
Government made a monsoon surface water drain. Tube wells were installed along the
canals in 1994-95. These benefited the people (p.176).
Similarly, some people of village Lohgadh (dist. Sirsa) reported waterlogging
problems. In this village too, the Government constructed a drain but it has no place to
empty into. Besides, it is only half-complete (p 177).
Other areas mentioned are Malout in Muktsar dist. and Lambakhedi in Jind
Comment on Bhakra criticism
The Bhakra dam, Nangal barrage and canal system provides water for irrigation in
its command area to the extent stated in the project report. If the agricultural planning,
crop pattern, field drainage, etc. are not carefully worked out and executed, there are
bound to be some local problems, which are usually solved by local measures. The dam
cannot be accused of fostering waterlogging. The specific cases brought out certainly
need to be examined and attended to. Moreover, it is not clear if all these areas are part
of the new command brought under irrigation by Bhakra. Map-7 at the end of the MAK
publication shows the entire districts of Ferozpur, Faridkot and Muktsar as lying outside
the Bhakra command.
12. Environmental impacts
Chapter 12 of the MAK report (pages 191-206) constitutes a general discourse
about the impacts of large dams on the environment, on the familiar pattern popularized
by the WCD Report.
The overview of the report had summed up the various issues that were later
elaborated in chapters 11 to 13 in the following terms :-
“In evaluating the limited benefits of the Bhakra project, we must not forget this
otherside of the balance sheet” (p.xxiii).
It then made a concatenation of complaints. These related to waterlogging in the
command, responsibility for ensuring riparian water needs downstream, present position
of silting in the reservoir and the position on resettlement and rehabilitation of the
displaced people. We have examined in detail each of these issues. Therefrom it is
shown that i) there has been no significant waterlogging in the Bhakra command, ii)the
water needs in India down the river up to the border have been taken care of, iii) reservoir
siltation has not affected the reaping of the full benefits from the project and iv) that there
was satisfactory resettlement and rehabilitation of the project-displaced.
The Bhakra project was among the early water resource development schemes
completed in independent India. There were no legal or administrative requirements at
the time of the formulation and approval of the scheme for making Environmental Impact
Studies (EIA). Many items, which are seen now as essential components of EIAs, were
not often considered so in those days. Thus, there is always a difficulty in an expost facto
environmental impact study. The MAK report also states this (page 193).
This meant that the findings stated by them “are mainly indicative”(p 193).
The report then goes on to make some specific comments. Some of the points not
discussed elsewhere are dealt with as under:-
12.1 Point 1
Impact on fisheries
Earlier, fishing in the river was informal and unorganized. It is now carried on a
commercial basis, with fishing rights being licensed.
BBMB has stated that pisciculture in the reservoir is a positive environmental benefit.
Information on the status of fishing in the river downstream of the dam, now and before
the creation of the reservoir, is not available (pp 194-195).
It would be important to estimate the production of fish before and after the reservoir.
Comment on point 1
The Bhakra reservoir, which lies wholly in Himachal Pradesh, is an important source for
raising fisheries in the region. The Government of Himachal Pradesh have developed
fresh water fisheries in Gobindsagar during the past four decades. It has been reported
that on an average about 1100 tonnes of fishery products are raised and sold annually.
Apart from the revenue earned 1400 direct and 1500 indirect jobs were made available.
The website of the Himachal fisheries department, inter alia, states as follows-
“ The Gobindsagar offers a classical example of exploiting the large reservoirs created in
view of completion of river valley project for job generation and production of high
quality animal protein i.e., fish. For the last 11 years there is a sustained fish production.
The reservoir has in fact created a history of maintaining highest per unit fish production
in large reservoirs for the last two decades in the country”23.
12.2 Point 2
Health impacts in the reservoir area
These have not been documented. However, a note prepared in 2000 said –
i) Gobindsagar reservoir “ covered all the natural water sources and are now depending
(sic) on the lake water as well as the water supply scheme provided by Govt.” There are
problems in the summer. The reservoir provides favourable conditions for mosquito
breeding and hence incidence of malaria increased due to the reservoir”(pp.195-96).
Comment on point 2
In the absence of pre-and-post-project documentation, the impacts mentioned are
in the nature of hearsay. Moreover, entirely different information is given elsewhere,
according to which Bilaspur town on the reservoir fringe is served by some springs and
fresh-water lake, both before and after the reservoir, as they do not get submerged. When
there are problems in summer, tankers are used for supplying water (page 224).
Note that the MAK study has not acknowledged the beneficial impact of the reservoir in
that it serves as the source of drinking water for all the villages and towns around it. The
CPR and BBMB survey confirms that this had vastly improved the health status of the
people residing in these villages and towns.
12.3 Point 3
Dharmadhikary has stated (on p 196) that “Bhakra dam- like many others- was
built with the express purpose of ‘utilization’ or ‘prevention from going to the sea’ of the
last drop of water”. This had a huge impact on the area downstream of Bhakra.” These
allegations are incorrect. Bhakra was taken up in order to utilize beneficially, within
India, the flows in the Sutlej River that were allocated to India under the Indus Waters
Treaty. All requirements beyond the border, in Pakistan, were to be taken care of by that
country through appropriate link(s) from the ‘Western rivers’ (pp. 196-199).
CBI&P workshop –Paper by Chairman, BBMB-‘Bhakra Nangal project Facts’, August 2005
India had taken care of water requirements up to the border. These have been
explained in the earlier comments. The point in confusing the reader by repeatedly
referring to aspects taken care of (like the Grey canal or Bist Doab area), or waxing
eloquent on non-relevant issues (like water requirements in Pakistan territory up to the
sea) is not understood.
12.4 Point 4
Siltation in Bhakra Reservoir
During the period from 1958, when water was first impounded, till the year 2000,
the extent of silting was seen to amount to 15% of the original capacity. Stated
differently, the siltation was to the extent of 31.3% of the dead storage and 9.7% of the
live storage, totalling to 15% of aggregate capacity. Manthan also uses these figures.
The inferences made by Manthan on the impact of siltation is as follows-
About 10% of the live capacity is lost in siltation (p.xxiii)
“A loss of capacity means that the very justification for the dam is being lost” (p.200).
Thereafter, a generalised view is expressed that-
“In the longer term, the sedimentation of dams means that large scale hydro/irrigation
dams are not a sustainable technology” (p.202).
Comment on Point 4
Sedimentation of a reservoir is an unavoidable and natural process. All reservoirs
experience sedimentation. The sediment studies for Bhakra project were made in 1947-48
using the long-term suspended silt observations on the Sutlej for the years 1916-1939.
The calculations made in the Project Report estimated the life of the reservoir as over 500
years, but the Project assumed this to be only 100 years for the purpose of working out
financial returns and projections. The actual rate of siltation in the reservoir is higher than
originally expected but the calculations, even with the higher siltation rate, estimates its
useful life as more than 100 years. There has been no impairment or diminution in any of
the functions and benefits of the project so far. Moreover, the dams upstream that have
come up since Bhakra, including their catchment area treatment works, are expected to
reduce the silt load reaching Bhakra.
The alarmist inferences made in the MAK report are unwarranted and unjustified
by the actual experience of over four decades.
In the context of sustainability, we had noted earlier that the alternative advocated
of water harvesting check-dams, like those at Sukhomajri, had silted up within a few
years. It is equally relevant to point out that due to the large reservoir behind the dam, the
generation of hydropower at Bhakra is not interrupted by the heavy silt load, whereas
run-of the river schemes (like the Nathpa-Jhakri) are closed down on a number of
occasions during high flow months.
12.5 Point 5
Public Health impacts in the Command area
MAK report voices concern about the adverse impact of chemical fertilizers and
pesticides by contaminating water resources. It says that some people argue that the “dam
is not responsible for the impacts of chemical fertilizers and pesticides used in
agriculture” and considers it a specious argument (pp. 202-203).
Dharmadhikary concludes by stating- “If irrigation from the project is glorified by
pointing to the spectacular increase in the agricultural production, then it needs to be
recognised that this production was made possible due to the heavy use of chemical
inputs along with the HYV seeds. It is a package that has worked together” (p. 203).
Comment on Point 5
At the outset, the double standards used by the author in his arguments should be
noted. He had devoted Chapters 5, 6 and 7 (pp. 57 to 109) to present the MAK thesis that
Bhakra had played a very insignificant role in the Green Revolution and increased
production in Punjab and Haryana. It was argued that “neither irrigation nor Green
Revolution came to Punjab (and Haryana) with the Bhakra Project” (p100). Elsewhere, it
was stated that “ …irrigation has played a very important role in this (food production).
However, in Punjab and Haryana, and especially in Punjab, this role has been played
essentially by groundwater based irrigation and canal irrigation has contributed to only a
limited extent. Within the canal irrigation, Bhakra is only a part” (page 107).
Dharmadhikary must first make up his mind. Does he want to say that Bhakra
irrigation has played an important role in the significant step-up in food production in
Punjab and Haryana? Or does he want to say that Bhakra only played an insignificant
role? If it is groundwater that should get the credit for all the agricultural production,
should it be simultaneously blamed for the effects of chemical fertilizers and pesticides,
too? He should make his comments in different places consistent with his position.
Bhakra-Nangal project made water available to all interior and remote areas in
Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan through its extensive canal and distribution system. This
made it possible to improve the public health standards of the millions of the people
living in the command area. However, careless and indiscriminate handling of pesticides
and fertilizers might lead to contamination of water resources and toxicity. This is an
important issue relating to public health that must be tackled by the government.
However, attributing the responsibility for this problem to Bhakra is unacceptable.
The Indian National Water Policy (2002) accords the highest priority to drinking
water among all its possible uses. Manthan’s deafening silence on the vast canal system
with its distributaries serving as the source of drinking water to millions of people and
animals in the irrigation command is very eloquent. Drinking water supplies to
Chandigarh, Delhi and towns in Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan are also based on Bhakra
13. Displacement and Resettlement
The Gobindsagar reservoir, when full, covers a maximum area of 168.35 sq. km.
Land to the extent of 17,984 ha was acquired by the project. 375 villages were involved
in this, in addition to Bilaspur town. Of the total land required, 6844 ha was Government
land. The balance 11,135 ha, that was owned privately had to be acquired for the project.
This involved 7209 families. Of these, 2398 families were resettled within Himachal
Pradesh by the HP Govt. 2179 families preferred resettlement within the irrigation
command and the balance opted for cash compensation and resettled on their own. About
5342 ha of land in compact blocks in 30 villages in the irrigation command in the Hisar
district were acquired to resettle the 2179 families who opted to settle in the command.
The figures given in MAK report are broadly the same but there are small differences.
Dharmadhikary alleges without justification that even 50 years after displacement
the oustees of the project have not been fully settled yet (xxiv). He elaborates this in
chapter 13 of the report. The main comment is that the resettlement policy was hardly fair
or adequate, both in its concept and in its implementation (p211). He acknowledges that
the ‘oustees’ showed remarkable understanding and were cooperative at every step but
considers that they were betrayed (p.213). Dharmadhikary bases his comments on the
field visit to some places and stray interviews with some displaced people.
MAK’s conclusions are wholly unjustified, as we shall see when the reasons
cited are analysed. In the resettlement villages located in Hisar, MAK team visited two.
The earlier CPR field study of 2004 had covered a much larger number of corresponding
villages, viz thirteen. CPR’s detailed questionnare was answered by a greater number of
people, too. A team from BBMB, too, visited many of these villages in Hisar area in July
2005 and checked up the veracity of the complaints made by MAK. The CPR/BBMB
visits also covered other categories of oustees, like those who resettled in Himachal
Pradesh along the periphery of the reservoir and the urban-displaced who were relocated
in the new Bilaspur town.
The main points made are discussed and commented upon as below:
Resettlement in the Bhakra command in Hisar
13.1 Point 1
The displaced people who opted to settle in the Bhakra command were shifted to
the Hisar district. The MAK team had visited two sites there-Ahlisadar and Ratta Tibba
and interviewed some settlers. The latter said that ‘the land they were given was covered
with thick overgrowth of wild vegetation. MAK report sarcastically adds- “ The oustees
had asked for lands in the Bhakra command-but certainly not for uncultivable overgrown
lands”. It then asks-Why was such land chosen to be given to the oustees? The part of
command in Hisar lies in Zone III. They could have been settled nearer in Zone I area,
say around Patiala (p.213).
Comment on point 1
The MAK is trying to pick holes in what was done by way of resettlement and
rehabilitation. Its comments are contrary to the understanding shown by the displaced or
the sensitive and humane handling of these issues by the government, fifty years ago. A
Bhakra Rehabilitation Committee was set up under a secretary to the Government and it
included the members of the Himachal Pradesh Territorial council, and the member
representing Kangra in the legislative assembly. It laid down the principles and methods
of rehabilitation, place of resettlement - after ascertaining public opinion, procedures for
compensation and related matters. It is this committee that decided, in consultation with
the people concerned, on the place of resettlement in Hisar. The oustees did not question
that choice and willingly moved there fifty years ago. The Bhakra project was intended
largely for the irrigation of semi-arid southwest Punjab and adjoining Rajasthan. Much of
that land was covered with some wild growth but certainly they were not uncultivable
lands, as is insinuated by MAK. They were being brought under irrigated cultivation for
the first time and thus involved land preparation. This was the case in respect of all canal
colony days of the past, too. MAK itself had acknowledged that the “oustees did not
themselves demand lands in Zone I areas” ( p. 213).
Raj, whom Manthan has often quoted, had this to say about Region I---
“ The first region is in need of flow irrigation, but there is a danger of waterlogging here
and, since it is already well endowed with rainfall, irrigation providing restricted
perennial supply of water has been considered adequate” (page 49, Raj 1960).
On the other hand, the Hisar area was given perennial irrigation. Perhaps, if these
oustees had been settled in Region I, say near Patiala, Manthan could still have criticised
that decision, quoting Raj in support.
13.2 Point 2
MAK states that “the oustees were paid cash compensation, and they were to pay
for the new land from this. It also appears that a cut was placed on the compensation
given to the oustees. However the oustees were not to be given proprietary rights till they
fulfilled all the conditions of resettlement and paid all the sums due from them” (p.211).
“…. For years the oustees did not get the land titles in their names and even till date, a
large number of cases remain outstanding. The oustees told us (the MAK team) that 2456
oustees remain for getting proprietary rights”(p.216).
Comments on Point 2
As compared to the price paid for the submerging land the price of newly acquired land
for resettlement was low. So it was not possible to allot land to the full value of the
compensation paid. Therefore it was decided that the oustees may be compensated partly
in cash and partly in the form of land subject to conditions. To help small landowners, an
oustee with compensation upto Rs.1000/- was given land against full compensation. With
higher compensation, the extent of land allotment was progressively reduced. For
example if an oustee was entitled to a compensation of Rs 2000/-, a first slab of Rs 1000/-
wholly in the form of land and in the next slab of Rs.1000/-as land worth Rs. 400 and
cash of Rs. 600/-. MAK perhaps misunderstood it as a cut in compensation amount itself.
The R&R policy adopted stated that the proprietary rights were to be conferred
only when they fulfil all the conditions of resettlement and clear all recoveries due from
them. Till March 31, 2005, 2213 oustees have been conferred proprietary rights and the
remaining 72 oustees have not come forward to complete all the formalities. Though
MAK was aware of the actual position through the BBMB status report made available to
them they have chosen to be vague by mentioning wrong figures allegedly told to them
by unnamed oustees.
13.3 Point 3
“According to Jagat Singh Chandel-only 60 families out of1700 got about 25
acres of land; most people could get only 2-3 acres” ( p.214). MAK further alleges that
“…some received 2-3 acres of land, some far less than this..”(p.214)
The landowners in Hisar “were dissatisfied with the compensation given to them
and went to court. In many cases the courts granted substantial increase in the prices. In
these cases the Government asked the oustees to pay the arrears! The oustees pleaded that
this increase should not be passed on to them….But their plea fell on deaf ears” (p.214).
MAK report quotes Ajmer Singh Chandel, president of the oustees’ association
for many years in the past, that the average price of the land acquired was low, while that
in the resettlement villages was relatively higher. When they came to Hisar “there was no
facility of even drinking water. There was no electricity. We were shifted in 1956, we got
electricity in 1972”….. There were also no schools, colleges or dispensaries (p.215).”
Comment on Point 3
The prices were determined in accordance with the land acquisition act and
anyone who had a grievance could approach a court for redress. There is nothing new in
these established procedures. If they have to be made more “people friendly,” this can be
pursued through the legislature and Government authorities. The officers in charge of any
dam project are not empowered to deal with these matters. This function was, and is even
now, handled by the revenue and land acquisition authorities.
However BBMB have confirmed that when the original land owners in Hisar
went to court seeking enhanced prices, government decided that no recovery of enhanced
compensation would be made from allottees having less than 5 acres. For those having
more than 5 acres of land, 50% of the amount of enhanced cost of land as well as half the
expenses on court cases were waived off. This gesture of waiving off completely the
recovery of enhanced compensation had benefited about one thousand oustees.
Jagat Singh Chandel’s statement about most people getting 2-3 acres only as well
as its support by MAK are incorrect as BBMB have confirmed that more than 50% of the
oustees were allotted more than 5 acres of land in Hisar area. Land was allotted as per the
well-publicised policy as per the land holding in their original villages. Such of the
oustees who were entitled to less than 5 acres were also offered additional land to
increase their land holding upto 5 acres by making payment.
As regards facilities like water, power, schools, etc there was no discrimination
between the locals of Hisar and the newly settled people. BBMB have stated that “the
above version is far from truth, as irrigation water from the Bhakra canal system was
available to the oustees when they resettled in Haryana. The oustees of all resettlement
villages visited by the field study team also confirmed this. It was also intimated by them
that they all got electricity along with the rest of the villages.”
BBMB have added some critical comments about Ajmer Singh Chandel. These
suggest that even though he is now well resettled and prosperous, he is a disgruntled man.
The villagers of Bhirrana informed that “Chandel who was the president of the
Purusharthi committee of their village, but had been working against the interests of the
oustees. As a result, he was forced to resign from the presidentship of the committee with
the intervention of the district administration….. The views and perceptions of a person
who does not enjoy good reputation ……do not have any value and should not become
the basis for drawing any conclusion regarding the R& R policy.”
13.4 Point 4
MAK states that “The villagers are of the opinion that they were not resettled as a
community since the government was afraid that they would unite and fight the
government for their rights. Finally the people were settled in 33 villages spread over a
wide area (p.212).
MAK adds –“ In the spirit of cooperation and understanding the oustees did not demand
land in Zone I areas. Yet, they did repeatedly ask for settling together as a community.
This too was not respected (p.213)
Comment on Point 4
These allegations twist the real situation in a mischievous manner. They tend to belittle
the special efforts made by the government in the 1950s to settle the displaced people in
compact blocks in 30 villages of Hisar district. In order to make compact allotment of
land to the oustees at one place in Hisar area the total holdings of a right holder in the
submergence area were first consolidated in the village of his residence. It was also
ensured that the oustees of a particular submerging village were allotted land in one
village in Hisar area so that their community did not break. In this process care was taken
not to disturb the families settling together. The old Biradari of neighbouring villages was
maintained in their new homes, as far as possible.
13.5 Point 5
MAK report alleges- “the entire economic and social structure” of the oustees was
“completely disrupted with displacement” (page 216). Some of the disabilities suffered
on migration to Hisar were detailed as follows:
The Dogra regiment of the army recruits cadets only from Himachal Pradesh and Jammu-
Kashmir. On migration, “not being able to serve in the army is not only a loss of income,
but is disheartening for the community” (p.216).
In Himachal, “any one who owned less than 10 acres of land was considered poor. Now
that they own 2-3 acres in Haryana, it makes the people feel they have lost their
economic standing in the community (p 216).
“The women mentioned that arranging marriages has become difficult. Since there has
been loss of esteem that a family enjoyed. Parents are hesitant ……(p.216).
“The climate in Haryana is very different from that in Himachal” (p 217).
The extent of freedom enjoyed by women was different in Haryana and Himachal. Many
elderly people passed away without ever visiting their old homelands (p.217).
“The oustee families have no political representation since they are in the minority. The
oustees in the Ratta Tibba settlement site mentioned (to MAK team) that they have not
been able to elect their member to the Panchayat ever since they resettled here making
them politically weak”. (p.217)
Comment on point 5
There is no denying the strong attachment to one’s native lands and it is always a
wrench to be moved out for the purpose of any project. Having conceded this basic point,
it would appear that the points made above are of the nature of nitpicking. It would also
seem that the Manthan team was using the alleged grievances of a few individuals to find
fault with everything. It is also likely that at least some of these complainants might be
more interested in strengthening their own position in the oustee community.
The Centre for Policy Research team had interviewed many of those who resettled
in Hisar, Fatehabad and Sirsa on displacement and resettlement issues. It got a different
The area was semi-arid with sand dunes before the irrigation canals came.
Besides, there were drinking water problems in the beginning. Whenever rains failed,
water was supplied through tankers mounted on bullock carts. The ground water was
deep and brackish. However, the settlers were able to overcome these early difficulties.
Stray delays that occurred reflected problems of governance at the cutting edge.
One point on which all oustees agree now is that those who settled are much
better off than those who chose to remain or return to Himachal Pradesh. These people
are now quite well off. They have most essential facilities like a primary school and a
health centre in each village, pucca roads, tractors etc. Their financial and social status
has certainly gone up. The old generation continues to be nostalgic about their old home
but the younger generations have adjusted to the local environment.
BBMB made a field survey in July 2005 of the position of the people who were resettled
in Hisar. The team visited not only Ratta Tibba and Ahli Sadar (the 2 villages reportedly
visited by MAK) but also 6 others, namely, Haiderwala, Chilewal, Nanheri, Nathwan,
Behal Bhambian and Bhirrana. The interviews with the villagers have confirmed that the
status of the oustees in Hisar area is much better in terms of land holding, social status
and financial standing. The following other findings are of interest.
Bhakra oustees have integrated with the local population and take active part in local
politics. It is incorrect to say that they have not been able to elect their representatives in
the Panchayat or that they are politically weak. Not only members but Sarpanches, too,
have been elected frequently from the oustees in nearly every resettled village. Thus,
Ratta tibba already had two Sarpanches elected from them. Similar is the position in Ahli
Sadr where, Asha Rani is the sitting member.
RESETTLEMENT IN HIMACHAL PRADESH
Villages on the periphery of the reservoir
13.6 Point 6
MAK alleges that-
The position of those who resettled within Himachal Pradesh was not good.
“The people who took cash compensation were left to fend for themselves --”(p.218)
“There were no banks at the time when the compensation was given. Many of the people
deposited their money with the local Sahukars (money lenders) who the villagers claim
never returned their money to them” ( page 218).
“The biggest problem was and continues to be drinking water (page 219).
“According to Captain Omkar Sigh Chandel of Bhakra village: Our biggest problem is
water…. Forget about irrigation, we do not even get water properly for drinking” ( p.219)
Electricity for Bhakra village came by the intervention of Dr. K.L.Rao in 1970 (p. 220).
Being near the dam, “there is restriction in the access to the villages’ (p 221).
Comment on Point 6
These complaints are also in tune with the earlier ones.
When all oustees who were given choices, and some freely opted to take compensation in
the form of cash and to settle on their own, what is the meaning of saying that “they were
left to fend for themselves”?
Similarly, if some people who took their compensation amount in cash decided to
handle the money that they received in a particular way and allegedly lost in the deal,
how do we hold the Bhakra dam responsible for it? Perhaps, if the Government had
insisted on advising the oustees on how they should use or invest the compensation
amount, that too could be criticised fifty years later.
We have dealt with the electricity and drinking water issue in general earlier.
In respect of Bhakra village, BBMB had originally provided its water supply system.
However this was abandoned subsequently with the commissioning of a new scheme by
Himachal Pradesh government from the nearby village Makri. As Bhakra village falls in
the tail end of this system, the villagers are facing shortages during summer. They
demanded that the original scheme be revived. BBMB has already taken steps to augment
the drinking water supply of Bhakra village. MAK report has blown this matter out of
The security concerns and restrictions often imposed near vulnerable vital installations in
order to protect them from possible attack and destruction are understandable.
Urban resettlement in Bilaspur town
13.7 Point 7
Bilaspur town was relocated in the nearby area. Families were given rehabilitation grants
for the construction of their new homes here. MAK report quotes Shabbir Qureshi of this
town to say that “this grant was too small, and so was the compensation given to the
oustees for the properties submerged…. So the government gave loans- which the people
were not able to return for several decades. Ultimately, part of this loan was forgiven by
the government” (p.223).
At the time of displacement the population of the town was 3500. The new town was
planned to accommodate a population of 4000. Today the population exceeds 10,000!
Before submergence there was space …to expand. But now there is the reservoir on one
side and the hills on the other, thus congesting the town (p.223).
“The new town also received electricity only in 1960. But there was no electricity in the
old Bilaspur town and they saw electricity in the new town only” (p224)
The town is currently facing severe water problems especially in the summer (p.224)
Comments on Point 7
None of the points made are of the nature of complaints. BBMB report quotes many from
this town, who stated that the compensation amount given to them was lower than that
given now for the oustees of the Kol Dam nearby. It is irrational to compare them
because of the long gap of fifty years They agree that the standard of living had gone up
in this town and education facilities improved, which would not have been possible in the
old town. The issues raised about the congestion in the town and water shortage in
summer only indicate the bias of the author, as these problems are not peculiar to
Bilaspur town only.
14. In Conclusion
In chapter 14 of the MAK report, which is its concluding chapter, all issues
mentioned earlier are raised in one way or the other. These do not require repetition or
further comment. However, Dharmadhikary goes on to draw some conclusions about
Punjab and Haryana as also all large dams. Points of such nature which are pertinent to
Bhakra will be briefly stated about and commented upon here.
14.1 Point 1
The MAK report alleges that the viability of agriculture in Punjab and Haryana is
being threatened. Yields are stagnating (p 231). Margins of farmers are squeezed (p 231).
Farmers’ indebtedness has even led to suicides (p. 231). “Some may be quick to argue as
to what this has got to do with the project. Was the project responsible for all these
problems? We (the MAK team) would pose a counter question - how is it that the project
did not prevent this? That such a situation has arisen in spite of the project ? “(p.231).
Comment on Point 1
The counter-question posed by Dharmadhikary may look clever but lacks fuller
understanding of the functional division of responsibilities in various spheres of
activities. The Bhakra-Nangal Project organisation is responsible for ensuring timely
irrigation to the command to the extent assured in the Project report. The Agriculture
department in the state government concerned handles irrigated agriculture and ensures
the necessary inputs (other than water), marketing, minimum support prices, etc. The
government and the legislative bodies are responsible for laying down policies relating to
irrigation, agriculture, marketing, procurement, food distribution and so on. If this is
understood, then the Project can in no way be blamed for the omnibus issues raised here.
The project authorities could not have prevented them without stepping beyond the
functional jurisdiction assigned to their organization.
Yields are not yet stagnant and there seems to be no threat to the viability of
agriculture in Punjab. But some problems are foreseen and Chapter 10 quotes (page 149)
from the report of a committee set up by the Punjab government, which states what is
needed to be done now. The Punjab Chief Minister had allegedly stated (page 151) that
“agriculture is in doldrums” in his state and expressed his helplessness in this regard.
Why blame the Bhakra Project for what even responsible constitutional authorities find
difficult to enforce all desired actions?
14.2 Point 2
During the visit to Haryana, the Manthan team visited Sukho Majri, famous for its
“rainwater harvesting and soil conservation efforts”. “Sukho Majri was in complete
contrast to what we had seen in rest of Haryana……. .Only such a decentralized approach
can meet our needs” (p.236).
Comment on Point 2
The Manthan Adhyayan Kendra study was made to assess the Bhakra project. The
point made about traditional methods of local rainwater harvesting does not assess what
such methods did or did not do. It is about a hypothetical alternative that could have been
considered and adopted in the 1950s. Moreover, Bhakra was a project presented as a
specific Plan A while the alternative advocated is only idea B. It is, therefore, not
necessary to discuss these alternative approaches always advocated by anti-dam, anti
mega project activists. Still an analysis of such approaches recommended by MAK has
been made in which brings out the demerits of these approaches. Please refer to the
detailed analysis of the alternative approach- vide para 9.1 and comments thereon.
In any case, effective utilisation of the entire flow of the Sutlej, allocated to India
under the Indus Treaty cannot have been achieved without creating the storage at Bhakra.
14.3 Point 3
The developments in Punjab and Haryana show the interdependence between
ecological, economic and social sustainability. In this, they exemplify the biggest
developmental challenges to India - and also show the possible directions for the country
to meet its development objectives (p.238).
Comment on Point 3
Bhakra-Nangal has served the nation for five decades. The assessment of its
performance over this period reveals that the project has fulfilled all its objectives.
Moreover, it has provided immense additional benefits to the region and the nation. It
exemplifies how all-round development can be achieved through well-conceived large
The success of Bhakra has prompted anti-dam lobbies to, somehow, pick holes in
its performance and belittle its contribution to the prosperity of the region. However, they
have not succeeded in this mission, undoubtedly because Bhakra is a good example of
sustained development with beneficial impacts on the society and the environment of the