Thursday, March 12, 2009

Interlinking of Rivers

Rivers are not only the vast source of water, the unique power holder of maintaining life on the earth, but also a great sustainable force behind the human civilization. All the rivers of the world flow to ‘irrigate and foster’ human progress. As the fertile and prosperous regions in the world are blessed with the flow of water whereas other parts of the world, where there is scarcity of water prevails, are the worst places to live in. No nation can take an exception to it, so our country also.

In a country like India where climatic changes are diverse and it has to often encounter with drought and flood concurrently affecting the development of the nation by causing great havoc to the progress already made. All Indian rivers barring the Himalayan watercourses are dependent on rainfall whereas the Himalayan rivers are enriched by both rain and ice. Though we have surplus amount of water in our great rivers, their distribution is not uniform.

So it is in this context that the proposal for Interlinking of Rivers (ILR) has come up. It was first proposed by Sir Arthur Cotton and later Dinshaw Dastur in the mid thirties.

Last time the ILR project got a push when the Atal Behari Vajpayee-led NDA Government was at the Centre. So under the chairmanship of the then Union Water Resources Minister Suresh Prabhu a task force was set up and the Inter-National Water Management Institute (IWMI) has taken up the elaborate project on the strategic analysis of this ambitious project.

Fresh Momentum
The project got a fresh momentum by the Union Minister of Water Resources Saifuddin Soz, who has recently said the country’s ambitious ILR programme was very much on the “front burner and priority list” of his Ministry and all the five ILR projects would be completed by the next two to three years.

At present, there are five river links on board the country’s ambitious ILR programme. These are Ken - Betwa link (Madhya Pradesh), Parbati - Kalisindh -Chambal link (Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh), Godavari (Polavaram) - Krishna (Vijayawada) link (Andhra Pradesh), Par - Tapi - Narmada link (Gujarat and Maharashtra) and Damanganga - Pinjal link (Gujarat and Maharashtra). However, till date the DPR of only the Ken-Betwa link is ready.

The DPR of the Ken-Betwa was completed on December 31, 2008. Work on preparing DPRs for the other projects is on. Preparing a DPR for a river project is a tedious and a gigantic effort. It involves various issues, including environmental concerns. Moreover, water is a State subject and in four projects, two State Governments are involved. But the Ministry is confident that all the five links will be ready in the next two to three years.

Manifold Advantages
The entire project is aimed to obtain manifold advantages. Mainly it can divert water from surplus rivers to deficit rivers through canals. This would transform thousands of acres of infertile lands to crop friendly soil and can bring the glacial water of the Himalayan snows to the parched Indian Peninsula. It is estimated that the 1.9 trillion cubic metres of rainwater in the Indian rivers goes into the sea. It could be impounded to relieve the water stress.

It would be a great boon for the poor farmers who commit suicides due to the unprofitable farming. It estimates to increase the food production from about 200 m tonnes a year to 500m and predicts to boost the annual average income of farmers from the present $40 per acre of land to over $500. This can also find a solution to a certain extent for the water disputes among the vying states over the sharing of river water. The power sector in the country would also get a boost. Being the cheapest, the creation of more hydro-electrical power projects can play a vital role in the ever- increasing power needs.

River Management
The ILR programme would provide a substantial volume of navigation to fulfill the much awaited in-land water transport system connect­ing all the states of India. Water transport is the cheapest means and it would bring about great changes in the entire transport system of the country. Fisheries sector also would be benefited. As more canals and links are made the scope of water life would increase. Thus, it would be a great advantage to the fishermen. Altogether it is aimed basically at finding new and innovative ways to address the water needs of the poor.

To achieve a wider scope, the project aims to extend the project to the entire sub-continent through transborndar river management. This can help bring down many differences with our neighbouring countries on the sharing and distribution of river water.

Though it speaks loudly of its numerous advantages, heavy criticisms are pounding on it. The main concern is the feasibility of the implementation of this entire project. We have good examples of linking great oceans as in the cases of Panama and Suez Canals. But the geography of our nation is totally different. Trans­ferring of water from one valley to another across the water divide is a geographical and physical impossibility. Digging canals and links amidst deserts, plateaus, marshes, etc. is not an easy task. It needs huge investment as it the largest infra­structural project. Its costs are so high that are not affordable by our developing economy.

Far-reaching Impact
When these rivers share their water, their pollution also is shared. Almost all the North Indian rivers are highly polluted and if they are linked with comparatively less polluted South Indian rivers, the result would be of far-reaching impact. Joining polluted water with clean one would be the worst disaster. The ecosystem and the environmental laws would be violated. It would not stop flooding because the rivers are often simultaneously in spate.

Rivers have a logic, as they carry soil and water the end result is not predictable. This would create great disturbance to the marine diversity as the required amount of river water does not reach there in the sea. The salt levels in the water also would rise. The river water brings numerous nutrients to the life in the ocean.

Above all, it can never solve water disputes either in the national level or in the international level. It would put every state and neighbouring countries over riparian rights. It would be having international impli­cations also. India has water treaties with several neighbouring countries and that prohibit us from the unilateral altering of river courses.

Thus, it seems that the implementation of the ILR programme would be a pyrrhic one. Consequently there exist a considerable amount of disquiet and apathy in favour of this project. So the successive Governments and the political parties must rise above their vested interest to create a conducive atmosphere for a national debate on the feasibiliaty of this project. All the concerns and criticisms are to be taken into account.

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