The Kutch branch canal

Source: By Aditi Raja: The Indian Express

On 28 August 2022 Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the 357.18-kilometer-long Kutch Branch Canal (KBC) that stretched from the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Dam in Narmada district 750 kilometres away, to the last of the villages of Gujarat’s Mandvi taluka, Mod Kuba, on 6 July. Built at the cost of Rs 6493 crore, Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd (SSNNL) officials acclaim KBC as the “longest branch canal in the world”.

What is the importance of this project?

The Saurashtra and North Gujarat regions have been receiving Narmada waters through the Saurashtra Branch Canal, its six sub-branch canals as well as through the canal network in north Gujarat. The KBC, which offtakes from the Narmada Main Canal (NMC) at Salimnagar in Kankrej taluka of Banaskantha district, was delayed because of the many engineering challenges faced while constructing on the terrain of the Rann of Kutch and land acquisition of about 115 hectares, which was pending in Anjar, Gandhidham, Mandvi and Mundra talukas covering a total of 13.860 km.

Some sub-canals of Kutch have been operational since 2017 but for areas like Mundra and Mandvi, the KBC will provide water for irrigation to 182 villages that have a culturable command area (CCA) of 1,12,778 hectares (278,561 acres). It will also provide drinking water in all 948 villages and 10 towns of the Kutch district.

Now, the KBC is ready to carry water in its entire length, covering 733 km from Sardar Sarovar Dam in Kevadia (now Ektanagar) in Narmada District where the Statue of Unity is located, to Mod kuba.

Raising capacity

The project began around 2008 and passes over Dudhai village which was the epicentre of the 2001 earthquake says SB Rao, Chief Engineer, Kutch, SSNNL. “We got experts from IIT to prepare designs to ensure that the seismic activity in the area was considered. There has been additional reinforcement used”.

Initially, the water carrying capacity of the KBC was kept at 120 cumecs (cubic metre per second) to irrigate the 1,12,778 hectares of the Kutch district, and later its carrying capacity was expanded to 220 cumecs to carry an additional 1MAF (Million Acre Feet) flood water from Kutch district during monsoon. “The carrying capacity of Kutch Branch Canal has been kept as per the requirement of irrigation as well as the need for carrying additional one million acre-feet surplus water from different places in Kutch (for floods),” Rao said.

The total length of the KBC is 357.185 km of which 82.30 km length falls in Banaskantha and Patan districts, and about 10 km of the canal travels through the Rann of Kutch which is the arid patch of the desert.

The challenges

Given the topography and the fact that the destination of the water lies on a higher plane in Kutch district, three pumping stations have been built at heights of 18.21 metres each at 100.97 km (Munjasar) and 111.75 km (Nani Hamirpur), the third at 18.72 metre height at 189.97 km at Bhachau. The water is lifted, in all, up to a height of 56 metres, equivalent to the height of an 18 storey building, according to Rao.

The high banking canal passes through Shinay village in Gandhidham taluka at about 18 m height from the ground level, equivalent to a six storey building. The Shinay Dam was emptied and about 12 lakh cubic metres of soil was collected in 87 days to build the high banking canal. The soil had to be sourced from elsewhere because Shinay dam and its surrounding ponds were flooded because of good rainfall in the last two monsoons. “Due to this (the high banking) the storage capacity of Shinay Dam has been increased by about 100 crore litres”, said Rao.

The road blocks so far

The KBC up to 214.45 km chainage was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in May 2017, to pour the water from Tappar Dam into Anjar Taluka. Construction work of KBC beyond 214.45 km was delayed due to different bottlenecks, especially in Shinay village, pending land acquisition process, payment of compensation of fruit trees and crossings of National Highway, Railway, IOCL and Gas pipeline etc. After resolving all these issues, the KBC up to the tail end of 357.185 km was completed in May 2022.

Construction work on the length of 500 metres in the village of Chhasara in Mundra taluka was pending due to a stay order on the land acquisition by the Gujarat High Court in 2013. “The judgement in the case was pronounced on 23 August 2021, and on the very next day the required amount was deposited to take possession of land from the owners was taken and the work was completed in just 90 days,” Rao said.

SSNNL also took care that special animal crossings were provided in the jungle stretch of the canal near the Rann of Kutch as per recommendations of the Wild Life Board. Wild animal species like blue bull, black bucks, foxes, hyena and wild ass, can be sighted in Kutch.

How much network of the canal is yet to be completed?

While the construction of the branch canal was completed in May, about 1200 km of a total of 5000 km network of minor canals for laying the distribution network is yet to be completed. Rao added that the SSNNL aims to complete the entire network by next year.