THE INFRASTRUCTURE BUILDERS
BHAKRA-NANGAL DAM | OPENED IN 1963
BHAKRA-NANGAL DAM, BHEL, L&T, SAIL, NTPC, POWER GRID CORPORATION, HINDALCO, C-DOT
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.
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.
MONUMENTS MAN Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru makes a speech at the opening of the Bhakra dam, November 5, 1963