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Following article on” Why can’t we attach rivers in India” is part of our series on general awareness:
About two-third of the land mass of India is either drought or flood prone, many states are engaged in inter-state water disputes. Agriculture production depends on the vagaries of monsoon due to poor irrigation facilities. These factors put forth the case in favour of interlinking of rivers in India.
Long-distance inter-basin transfer of water has been in practice in India for over five centuries. The Periyar Project, Parambikulam-Aliyar Project, Kurnool-Cudappah Canal and the Telugu-Ganga Project are some of the examples of inter-basin water transfers executed in south India in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Interlinking of rivers in India is expected to greatly reduce the regional imbalance in the availability of water in different river basins. Surplus water which flows waste to the sea can be fruitfully utilized. It is assessed that the inter-linking of rivers will provide additional irrigation benefits to 35 million hectares (Mha) -25 Mha from surface water and an additional 10 Mha from increased ground water recharge- which will be over and above the ultimate irrigation potential of 140 Mha envisaged from the conventional irrigation projects.
In 1972 the then Minister for Irrigation K. L. Rao proposed a 2640 kilometer long link between the Ganges and Cauvery rivers. In 1974 plans were proposed for the Garland canal. In 1982 the National Water Development Agency was set up to carry out surveys of the links and prepare feasibility studies. The conceived interlinking project consisted of two parts, a northern Himalayan River Development component and a southern Peninsular River Development component.
Himalayan River Development
It was conceived that the northern component would consist of a series of dams built along the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers in India, Nepal and Bhutan for the purposes of storage. Canals would be built to transfer surplus water from the eastern tributaries of the Ganges to the west. The Brahmaputra and its tributaries would be linked with the Ganges and the Ganges with the Mahanadi River. This part of the project would provide additional irrigation for about 220,000 square kilometers and generate about 30 gigawatts of electricity. In theory it would provide extra flood control in the Ganges and Brahmaputra river basins. It could also provide excess water for the controversial Farakka Barrage which could be used to flush out the silt at the port of Calcutta
Peninsular River Development
It was planned that the main part of the project would send water from the eastern part of India to the south and west. The southern development project would consist of four main parts. First, the Mahanadi, Godavari, Krishna and Cauvery rivers would all be linked by canals. Extra water storage dams would be built along the course of these rivers.
The purpose of this would have been to transfer surplus water from the Mahanadi and Godavari rivers to the south of India. Second, those rivers that flow west to the north of Bombay and the south of Tapi would be linked. Due to the irregular fluctuations in water levels in the region, as much storage capacity would be built as possible.
The water could be used by the urban areas of Bombay and also to provide irrigation in the coastal areas of Maharashtra. Third the Ken and Chambal rivers would be linked in order to provide better water facilities for Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.
Finally a number of west-flowing rivers along the Western Ghats simply discharge into the Arabian Sea. As many of these as possible would be diverted for irrigation purposes. The Peninsular part of the project would provide additional irrigation to 130,000 square kilometers and generation an additional 4 gigawatts of power.
Already, government of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh had signed an agreement to link Ken Betwa Rivers. The Ken-Betwa link project envisages diversion of surplus waters of Ken basin to water deficit Betwa basin. The quantity of water proposed to be diverted from Ken basin, after considering in basin demands and downstream commitments earmarked for providing irrigation in Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh is 1020 Mm3.
However, the road for interlinking is not smooth one and there are many obstacles which make it a rough ride. The most important obstacle is the cost of project itself which is around Rs.12.6 lakh crores. Funding for such a huge project is not feasible as of now. Even if funding is managed, cost of project is unlikely to get recovered from user charges as these service rendered by such projects are usually subsidized.
From a humanitarian perspective, millions of people will be forcibly displaced by this project. A sound rehabilitation and resettlement program for these people needs to be put in place. It has been estimated that 21-56 million people have been displaced by large dams over the past 50 years in India, 40% of them tribal people.
Less than 50% of those displaced were rehabilitated. The submergence of land has been 2 to 3 times of that originally estimated in these projects. The displaced are people who had lived in rural areas or forests all their lives and that is the way of living they have known. The interlinking of river is likely to displace the people more the any other project in India and such a large scale displacement is also likely to cause social unrest.
Environment Impact Assessment of such a large project is necessary and it will certainly adversely affect the environment as the project is too huge covering entire India. Depletion of forest land may further increase the effects of climate change in India like more frequents floods and droughts.
Project also involves the diplomatic problems as Bangladesh is vehemently opposed to any interlinking of rivers in India as such project will affect the water supply in Bangladesh. Last but not the least, it is also not sure whether the project will be as beneficial as thought since it is found that water surplus regions have surplus during four months of the year while for rest of the year, they also face water scarcity. Moreover, the lack of political consensus also makes the project more cumbersome.
Because of the aforesaid and many other reasons, former Union Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh said that the idea of interlinking India’s rivers is a “human-ecological-economic disaster”, putting a question mark on the future of the ambitious project.
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