The Damodar River is a tributary of the Hugli River. It flows more or less in the west to east direction through Jharkhand and West Bengal.
Its total length from its source in the hills of Chota Nagpur plateau in Jharkhand to its confluence with Hugli in West Bengal is about 541 km, half of which is in Jharkhand and the remaining half is in West Bengal.
It takes a southerly turn from Bardhman town and joins river Hugli about 50 km upstream from Kolkata. The Damodar valley covers an area of 24,235 sq km in Jharkhand and West Bengal. Bokaro, Barakar and Konar are its important tributaries.
The Damodar River was termed River of Sorrow or Sorrow of Bengal and even Sorrow of the Region. Its notoriety was demonstrated by the devastating floods in 1823, 1848, 1856, 1859, 1863 1882, 1890, 1898, 1901, 1905, 1907, 1913, 1916, 1923, 1935 and 1943. While major floods occur at intervals, minor floods are experienced almost every year. The sediments brought by the Damodar create the problem of sedimentation in the Hugly which in turn endangers the Kolkata port.
In order to control floods and other related problems, the Central Government, in consultation with the state governments of erstwhile Bihar and West Bengal, worked out a unified development project for the Damodar Basin. The Damodar Flood Enquiry Committee suggested a comprehensive plan. This plan was based on the memorandum submitted by W.L. Voorduin, an engineer with the Tennesse Valley authority (TVA) in the USA. The Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC) was established on 18th February, 1948 to execute the Damodar Valley Project.
The original plan was to construct seven major dams. These dams were to be Aiyar and Panchet Hill on the Damodar river; Maithon, Belpahari and Tilaiya on the Barakar river; Konar on the Konar river and Bokaro on the Bokaro river. But the DVC has constructed only four dams (Tilaiya, Maithon, Konar and Panchet Hill). These dams are briefly described as under :
- Tilaiya Dam:
This dam has been constructed on Barakar river. The construction on this dam was started in 1950 and completed in 1953. Its length is 366 metres and the maximum height above the river bed is 30 metres.
Its gross storage capacity is 395 million cubic metres and its live storage capacity is 321 million cubic metres. It is the only concrete dam in the area. Two power stations of 2000 K.W. each have been set up here. The dam provides irrigation facilities to forty thousand hectares of land.
- Konar Dam:
It has been constructed on Konar River in Hazaribagh district of Jharkhand. It is 3349 metres long and its maximum height above river bed is 49 metres. It is an earthen dam with a concrete spill-way. Its gross storage capacity is 337 million cubic metres and live storage capacity is 276 million cubic metres.
Construction on this dam started in 1950 and it was completed in 1955. It has an installed capacity of ten megawatts. Bokaro steel plant and Bokaro thermal plant receive hydroelectric power and clean water, respectively from this dam. It provides irrigation to 45,000 hectares of agricultural land.
- Maithon Dam:
It has been constructed on Barakar River, a little upstream from the confluence of river Damodar and Barakar. It is 994 metres long and its maximum height above the river bed is 49 metres. Its gross storage capacity is 1,357 million cubic metre. Construction on this dam was started in 1951 and completed in 1958. It has an installed capacity of 60 megawatts.
- Panchet Hill Dam:
This is also an earthern dam with a concrete spill-way which has been constructed on the river Damodar. Construction started on this dam in 1952 and was compeleted in 1959. This dam is 2,545 metres long and its maximum height above the river bed is 49 metres. Its gross storage capacity is 1,497 million cubic metres while its live storage capacity is 1,307 million cubic metres. It has an installed capacity of 40 megawatts and it irrigates about 28 lakh hectares of agricultural land.
The Durgapur barrage located at about 23 km from Raniganj has been created for the storage of irrigation water. It is 831 metres long and about 12 metres high. It stores the waters released from Konar, Tilaiya, Maithon and Panchet Hill dams. The bulk of the water for storage is provided by Maithon and Panchet Hill dams.
This irrigation water is regulated through a network of canals extending over an area of about 5,000 sq km in Bankura, Bardhman, Hugli and Haora districts in West Bengal. The barrage was completed in 1955. About 4 lakh hectares are irrigated mainly along the left bank of the river in Bardhman and Hugli districts. The hilly nature of the terrain in Jharkhand has restricted the irrigated area.
The left bank Damodar canal is a navigation-cum-irrigation canal connecting Kolkata with the Damodar valley coalfields. It is 137 km long which carries 20 lakh tonnes of goods annually.
Benefits from the Project:
Damodar valley project is a big landmark in the economic development of this region. Following are the main benefits drawn from the project:
- Flood control in the flood prone areas of Jharkhand and West Bengal.
- Irrigation facilities to about 5.15 lakh hectares of land.
- Installed capacity of 2, 60,000 KW of hydroelectricity at various dam sites.
- Check on soil erosion through regulated flow of water.
- Additional land reclamation for agriculture.
- Navigation in Damodar River, its tributaries and channels.
- Promotion of public health through control on malaria and other diseases as a result of proper drainage of water.
- Encouragement to fishing in the reservoirs and other water bodies.
- Promotion of tourism.
- The project has provided a broad industrial base to the area.
The Damodar valley project was primarily conceived for flood control and this target has not been achieved fully. Heavy floods did occur in 1959, 1970-71 and 1978, though their ferocity has been much reduced. Only four dams have been constructed in place of the original suggestion of seven dams.
The over-utilisation of forests and lack of afforestation have aggravated the problem of siltation in the reservoirs. Thus, the first line of defence in the form of forests and the second line of defence in the form of dams have failed to eliminate the problem of floods altogether.
Hydroelectricity is to be supplemented by thermal electricity because the flood- control dams cannot be taken as power-generating dams in view of the creation of flood cushion before the monsoon every year. However, the DVC has been an important example of integrated regional development. Its efficiency can be improved with better management and foresight.