The National River Linking Project (NRLP), envisages the transfer of water from water ‘surplus’ basins where there is flooding to water ‘deficit’ basins where there is drought/scarcity, through inter-basin water transfer projects. It links rivers by a network of reservoirs and canals that will allow for their water capacities to be shared and redistributed. This is an engineered panacea that will reduce persistent floods in some parts and water shortages in other parts besides facilitating the generation of hydroelectricity for an increasingly power hungry country.
The term 'surplus' as per the Government, states that it is the extra water available in a river after it meets the humans’ requirement of irrigation, domestic consumption and industries
The term 'deficit' has also been viewed in terms of humans only and not from the river's perspective, which includes many other factors.
Components of River Linking Projects
It has been split into three parts:
1. Northern Himalayan Rivers interlink component.
2. A southern peninsular component.
3. An intra-State rivers linking component.
Himalayan Rivers Development Component under which 14 links have been identified. This component aims to construct storage reservoirs on the Ganga and Brahmaputra rivers, as well as their tributaries in India and Nepal. The aim is to conserve monsoon flows for irrigation and hydropower generation, along with flood control. The linkage will transfer surplus flows of the Kosi, Gandak and Ghagra to the west. A link between the Ganga and Yamuna is also proposed to transfer the surplus water to drought-prone areas of Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat.
Peninsular Rivers Development Component or the Southern Water Grid, which includes 16 links propose to connect the rivers of South India. It envisages linking the Mahanadi and Godavari to feed the Krishna, Pennar, Cauvery, and Vaigai rivers. This linkage will require several large dams and major canals to be constructed. Besides this, the Ken River will also be linked to the Betwa, Parbati, Kalisindh, and Chambal rivers.
Proposed Benefits of the River Linking Projects
• The river interlinking project claims to generate total power of 34,000 MW (34 GW).
• The project claims to provide additional irrigation to 35 million hectares (m ha) in the water-scarce western and peninsular regions, which includes 25 m ha through surface irrigation and 10 m ha through groundwater.
• It will lead to Ground water Recharging.
• The inter-link would create a path for aquatic ecosystems to migrate from one river to another, which in turn may support the livelihoods of people who rely on fishery as their income.
• Different water flows represent different ecological systems thus can lead to ecological imbalance. The full range of natural intra and inter annual variation in hydrologic regimes and associated characteristics of timing , duration , frequency , and rate of change , are critical in sustaining the full native biodiversity and integrity of aquatic ecosystems.
• When rivers flow through forested, cultivated, and settled lands, they carry with them large amounts of silt. This silt is deposited along the way, enhancing the productivity of the surrounding lands, and finally of the coastal waters. This is the basis of the rich agriculture of the plains of India, and of the rich fisheries off our coasts. The river also pushes out the sea, which would otherwise invade deep into the land, and erode the coast.
• In order to create canals and reservoirs, mass deforestation will take place. This will have impact on rains and in turn affect the whole cycle of life. The project envisages the building of many dams with some of them having high lifts upto 120 m. This will lead to a huge social and environmental cost.
• Usually rivers change their course and direction in about 100 years and if this happens after interlinking, then the project will not be feasible for a longer run.
• Due to interlinking of rivers, there will be decrease in the amount of fresh water entering seas and this will cause a serious threat to the marine life system and will be a major ecological disaster.
• The Government has also ignored the dynamics of the river while planning the project. Every river has its own quality so the mixing of water will affect the particular quality of the river, or to say when most of the rivers in the country are polluted, this will cause mixing of a less polluted river with the cleaner one.
• Due to the creation of Canals and Reservoirs, huge amount of area which is occupied by the people will be submerged leading to displacement of people and government will have to spend more to rehabilitate these people. Along with the ecological cost, the project will also bring a great human cost in terms of those displaced by it. No estimates exist of the number of people who will be so affected by the river linking project, but it would surely run into hundreds of thousands. And they need to be properly rehabilitated. But where, in any case, is the land available to resettle them other than on forests, pastures, and wetlands.
Tehri dam hydropower project , which has the capacity of 1000 MW was developed at the cost of total submergence of Tehri town and 40 villages and partial submergence of 72 other villages affecting the lives of more than 100,000 people.
The River Linking project is a great challenge and an opportunity to address the water issues arising out of climate change. The long-term solution to water scarcity lies in making the River Linking project work by building a network of dams and canals across the length and breadth of the country. However, interlinking has to take place after a detailed study so that it does not cause any problem to the environment and society.