South Koel River: A Vital Waterway Spanning Jharkhand and Odisha
Length: 285 kilometers (177 miles)
The South Koel River, known as “Dakshin Koel Nadi” in Odia and “दक्षिण कोयल नदी” in Hindi, is a significant river coursing through the Indian states of Jharkhand and Odisha. This 285-kilometer (177-mile) long river originates from the Lawapani Waterfalls, situated near Lohardaga in the Chota Nagpur Plateau, approximately 82.5 kilometers (51 miles) from Ranchi. It joins forces with the Belsiangar and Singbhum Rivers, ultimately becoming the Brahmani River in Odisha.
Hydrology and Tributaries
The South Koel River is sustained by three streams in Jharkhand, namely the North Karo, South Karo, and Koina. As it enters Odisha, it merges with the Sankh River at Vedavyas, near Rourkela, and adopts the name Brahmani River. This river system plays a pivotal role in the drainage scenario of West Singhbhum, with three major river systems – Subarnarekha, Baitarani, and Brahmani – defining the region’s topography.
The watersheds of these three river systems have their origins near Gamharia in the Kolhan region, extending north-west, south-west, and eastward from a common center. These watersheds serve as natural dividers between the Subarnarekha and its tributaries, the Baitarani system, and the South Karo and Deo rivers, which ultimately feed into the Brahmani River via the South Koel.
One significant development along the South Koel River is the Koel-Karo project, located in the Ranchi and West Singhbhum districts. This ambitious 710 MW power project involves the construction of two earth dams, one measuring 44 meters (144 feet) in height across the South Koel River near Basia, and the other towering at 55 meters (180 feet) across the North Karo River near Lohajima. These dams are interconnected by a trans-basin channel, housing six 115 MW units in an underground powerhouse at Lumpu-ngkhel, along with an additional 20 MW unit at Raitoli.
However, the project’s implementation has not been without controversy. It is expected to impact around 120 villages, displacing over 100,000 people and submerging approximately 22,000 hectares (54,000 acres) of land, including both agricultural and forested areas. Disputes over compensation packages for the affected communities sparked protests in 1974, which have persisted over the years. Ultimately, in 2003, the project was shelved due to ongoing public resistance.
The South Koel River, with its complex hydrology and its role in the region’s watershed dynamics, remains both a valuable natural resource and a point of contention, reflecting the intricate balance between development and environmental conservation in this part of India.