Dam without reinforced concrete survives over 70 years in Odisha

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The Machkund hydroelectric project on the Odisha-AP border is an engineering marvel of the pre-independence era

The Machkund hydroelectric project on the Odisha-AP border is an engineering marvel of the pre-independence era

A dam built without reinforced concrete, a standard norm in all modern construction, has managed to survive for seven decades beating engineers’ expectations for its lifespan.

The Jalaput dam which divides Odisha and Andhra Pradesh serves as the main storage for the Machkund hydroelectric project – is one of India’s oldest power projects.

The dam, a non-overflow gravity structure, is 1,425 feet long and its height from the deepest bed is 200 feet. The width of the dam at the middle level of the bed is 148 feet while the upper width is 18 feet.

“The Jalaput dam was constructed with random rubble masonry in cement mortar. Although it was built without reinforced concrete, seepage from the dam is almost nil. It is a matter of pride for us,” said Aditya Samantray, Executive Engineer of the Machkund Hydropower Project.

Mr. Samantray said five hydropower projects – Machkund, Balimela, Upper Sileru, Lower Sileru and Donkarayi – depend on the Jalaput dam.

The dam, which is part of the Machkund Hydroelectric Project, has stored water from the Machkund River which originates from the western slopes of the Eastern Ghats near Paderu of Madgula Taluk of Visakhapatnam district at an elevation of 3,000 feet above from sea level.

In 1929, studies of the hydroelectric potential of Machkund were carried out and subsequently, in 1931, Henry Heward, Chief Engineer of the Madras State Department of Electricity, wrote a comprehensive report. Southern Odisha and Andhra Pradesh fell under the jurisdiction of Madras State. After the establishment of Odisha as a separate state in 1936, the Machkund River became the boundary between Madras and Odisha.

After the process of surveys and field surveys, the construction finally started in 1946. In 1955, Andhra Pradesh became a separate state. The project was later known as the Joint Venture Project. It was inaugurated by Dr. Rajendra Prasad, then President of India, on August 19, 1955.

When the Jalaput Dam was built, 156 villages in Odisha having 18,200 acres of land and 82 villages in Andhra Pradesh with 5,800 acres of land were submerged. Jalaput’s catchment area is approximately 755 square miles. As the dam was an integral part of five hydropower projects, the profile design of the dam was changed three times to increase its useful life to 100 years.

Mr Samantray said the project could be called a marvel because of the challenge engineers faced in bringing men and machines to one of the most remote parts of the country.

Unique winch system

According to a Central Water Commission report, “the nearest port and railhead was Visakhapatnam, at a distance of 200 km. The winding roads of the Ghat presented a difficult situation for transporting heavy machinery”.

The biggest challenge was to send the transformers, which were the heaviest, to the plant.

Project engineers developed a unique winch system. It was a cart that was traveling along a 2,200 foot towpath. It had the capacity to carry material weighing 20 tons.

“Electricity was first generated in 1955. The British had built the winch system to transport turbines, generators and transformers. Over the years, the winch became the mainstay of transport. The project uses the winch system to reach the power plant. In the past seven decades, there have been no accidents,” said Braja Sundar Padhy Machkund, Deputy Executive Engineer.

The rope used to send the cart is changed at a gap of 10 years. Every five years, the longevity of the rope is tested. The transport system is subject to regular maintenance.

In 1955, the project generated 74.133 million power units. Gradually the capacity was increased. In 1996-97, it had hit 927.164 million units – the highest generation in a single year. Today, annual electricity generation is estimated at around 600 to 700 million units, split equally between Odisha and Andhra Pradesh.

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