THE IN­FRA­STRUC­TURE BUILDERS

BHAKRA-NAN­GAL DAM | OPENED IN 1963

India Today - - INSIDE - —Asit Jolly

BHAKRA-NAN­GAL DAM, BHEL, L&T, SAIL, NTPC, POWER GRID COR­PO­RA­TION, HIN­DALCO, C-DOT

THE GE­N­E­SIS

Among In­dia’s ear­li­est river val­ley de­vel­op­ment projects, the Bhakra-Nan­gal multi-pur­pose dams were cru­cial to the suc­cess of the Green Revo­lu­tion in the north­ern states of Pun­jab, Haryana and Ra­jasthan. Wa­ter from the dams brought ir­ri­ga­tion to 135 lakh acres in the three states, be­sides preventing floods. At In­de­pen­dence, close to 80 per cent of the cul­tivable, canal-ir­ri­gated area of erst­while Pun­jab fell in West Pun­jab and con­se­quently went to Pak­istan.

This left the east­ern or In­dian por­tion of Pun­jab with scanty ir­ri­ga­tion re­sources. Al­though en­vis­aged even be­fore In­de­pen­dence, pre­lim­i­nary earth­work on the Bhakra dam only started in 1948. Prime Min­is­ter Jawa­har­lal Nehru in­au­gu­rated the con­struc­tion on Novem­ber 18, 1955, pour­ing the first pail of con­crete into what was to be the firm foun­da­tion of the dam. He called it a sym­bol of “na­tion’s will to march for­ward with strength, de­ter­mi­na­tion and courage”, de­spite the “great shock” and “grievous wound” suf­fered by Pun­jab. On com­ple­tion, the Bhakra—a con­crete grav­ity dam—was one of the high­est in the world at 741 feet,

just three feet short of the US’s then tallest Hoover dam. At its in­au­gu­ra­tion on Oc­to­ber 22, 1963, Nehru said, “Call it a tem­ple, a gur­d­wara or a mosque, it in­spires our ad­min­is­tra­tion and rev­er­ence.” Other stages of the project, in­clud­ing a down­stream dam at Nan­gal, were com­pleted by the early 1970s. Back then, the Bhakra-Nan­gal project was the only one in Asia ca­pa­ble of achiev­ing gen­er­a­tion ca­pac­i­ties of 1,500 megawatts.

To­day, the dams are part of the Bhakra Beas Man­age­ment Board (BBMB), which is crit­i­cal to the op­er­a­tion of the north­ern elec­tric­ity grid. The BBMB pow­er­house, in­clud­ing Bhakra-Nan­gal, gen­er­ates be­tween 1,900 MW and 2,800 MW in the summer months, and 500 MW to 1,900 MW in win­ters. The hy­dro­elec­tric projects al­low for ther­mal power sta­tions in the re­gion to op­er­ate at base lev­els. The BhakraNan­gal and Beas projects, which an­nu­ally sup­ply 28 mil­lion acre feet (MAF) of wa­ter, have hugely con­trib­uted to the con­tin­u­ing suc­cess of the Green Revo­lu­tion as well as the mas­sive in­crease in milk pro­duc­tion in the north­ern states.

THE FU­TURE

All the Bhakra pow­er­houses—five on the right bank and five on the left— have been up­graded to en­hance power gen­er­a­tion ca­pac­ity. The left bank pow­er­houses are cur­rently be­ing fur­ther up­graded.

GETTY IMAGES

MON­U­MENTS MAN Prime Min­is­ter Jawa­har­lal Nehru makes a speech at the open­ing of the Bhakra dam, Novem­ber 5, 1963

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