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River Interlinking Projects: Boon or Bane for India

  • Category
    Ecology and Environment
  • Published
    6th Jul, 2022

Overview

  • River Linking Projects in India
  • Need and Significance
  • Recent issues and concerns
  • Union and states’ conflict
  • Benefits and Challenges

Context

Environmental groups in Karnataka have criticised the project to link the Bedti and Varada rivers in Karnataka, calling it ‘unscientific’ and a ‘waste of public money’

  • This issue has aroused questions on several river interlinking projects across the country, and brought them under scrutiny.

Background

Background

  • The initial plan to interlink India’s rivers came in 1858 from a British irrigation engineer, Sir Arthur Thomas Cotton.
  • In 2014, the Ken-Betwa River Linking Project got Cabinet approval.
  • However, the project is yet to take off because of the opposition faced by the government chiefly from environmentalists.

About

What is Inter-linking of rivers?

  • River Linkingis a project of linking two or more rivers by creating a network of manually created reservoirs and canals, and providing land areas that otherwise does not have river water access and reducing the flow of water to sea using this means.
  • It is based on the assumptions that surplus water in some rivers can be diverted to deficit-river by creating a network of canals to interconnect the rivers.
  • Uses:
  • For Irrigation purposes
  • flood control in the region
  • for Livelihood needs of locals
  • Building Dams for water conservation

What was the issue raised under ‘Bedti- Varada river project’?

  • The issue highlighted the government’s planning of interlinking two opposite directional flowing rivers with each other that lack sufficient source of water in them.
  • The investigating group has made allegation on government for using river interlinking project for their benefit and corruption, making profit to contractors, builders and wasting valuable resources in the region.

National River Linking Project (NRLP)

  • NRLP, formerly known as the National Perspective Plan, proposes to connect 14 Himalayan and 16 peninsular rivers with 30 canals and 3,000 reservoirs to form a gigantic South Asian Water Grid.
  • NRLP includes two components:
    • Himalayan component: This component aims to construct storage reservoirs on the Ganga and Brahmaputra rivers, as well as their tributaries in India and Nepal. It will connect-
      1. The Ganga and Brahmaputra basins to the Mahanadi basin
      2. The Eastern tributaries of the Ganga with the Sabarmati and Chambal river systems.
  • Peninsular component: It includes 16 links that propose to connect the rivers of South India. It envisages linking
    1. The Mahanadi and Godavari to feed the Krishna, Pennar, Cauvery, and Vaigai rivers
    2. The Ken river to the Betwa, Parbati, Kalisindh, and Chambal rivers
    3. West-flowing rivers to the south of Tapi to the north of Bombay
    4. Linking some west-flowing rivers to east-flowing rivers
  • The NRLP is managed by National Water Development Agency (NWDA) under the Ministry of Jal Shakti.
  • Recently, it has been reported that the Centre is deliberating on creation of a National River Interlinking Authority (NIRA).
  • It will have powers to set up SPV for individual link projects.

What is the vision for interlinking river projects in India?

  • As per the government, the project is needed to meet increasing water requirement in the country.
  • Core idea: Overall, the NRLP envisions the transfer of waterfrom water ‘surplus’ basins (perennial Himalayan rivers) where there is flooding to water ‘deficit’ basins (rain-fed peninsular rivers) where there is drought/scarcity, through inter-basin water transfer projects, For example- The Ken-Betwa Linking Project.


Are there previous examples of river-linking in India?

  • In the past, several river linking projects have been taken up.
  • Under the Periyar Project, transfer of water from Periyar basin to Vaigai basin was envisaged. It was commissioned in 1895.
  • Similarly, other projects such as Parambikulam Aliyar, Kurnool Cudappah Canal, Telugu Ganga Project, and Ravi-Beas-Sutlej were undertaken.
  • Godavari River has also been formally interlinked with the Krishna River at Ibrahimpatnam (near Vijayawada) in Andhra Pradesh in September 2015.

What are the advantages of interlinking Rivers?

  • Reduce dependence on Rainfall
  • Used for Navigation
  • For Agriculture purposes
  • Power Generation
  • Other benefits: 
  • Water supply: The project envisages a supply of clean drinking water amounting to 90 billion cubic meters. It can resolve the issue of drinking water scarcity in India.
  • Similarly, interlinking of rivers has the potential to provide 64.8 billion cubic meter of water for industrial use.
  • Apart from that, interlinking can help the survival of fisheriesprotect wildlife in the summer monthsdue to water scarcity. It can also reduce forest fires occurring in India due to climatic conditions.
  • India can also explore an additional line of defencein the form of waterline defence.

What are the challenges associated with River-Interlinking?

Despite the many benefits that are associated with the river interlinking project, the project is yet to take off because of the many hurdles it is facing. Some of the challenges in this regard are as follows:

  • Project feasibility: There is a requirement of huge structures which requires a great engineering capacity. So, the cost and manpower requirement is immense.
  • Environmental impact: The huge project will alter entire ecosystems. The wildlife, flora and fauna of the river systems will suffer because of such displacements and modifications.
  • Many national parks and sanctuaries fall within the river systems.
  • Can lead to displacement: Building dams and reservoirs will cause the displacement of a lot of people. This will cause a lot of agony for a lot of people.
  • They will have to be rehabilitated and adequately compensated.
  • Myth of controlling floods: There have been instances where big dams like Hirakud Dam, Damodar Dam, etc. have brought flooding to Odisha, West Bengal, etc.
  • Inter-state disputes: River water has no boundary and flows across different states. Hence River water remains a matter of dispute between the states normally.
  • Interlinking of those already disputed rivers can further worsen the situation between the states.
  • International disputes: In the Himalayan component of the project, the effect of building dams and interlinking rivers will have an effect on the neighbouring countries. This will have to be factored in while implementing the project.
  • Bangladesh has opposed the transfer of water from the Brahmaputra to the Ganga.

PRACTICE QUESTION

Q1. River linking projects for the country are a great opportunity to address the water issues arising out of climate change.

Q2. Do you think river interlinking is the most suitable way forward for water management in India? Critically examine.

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