Breaking down the controversy, and the peninsular river-linking project.

Explainer What the Godavari-Krishna-Cauvery river-linking project is all aboutCauvery River/Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change
news River-linking Tuesday, June 04, 2019 - 18:07

Days after the Lok Sabha election results, there was minor fracas on the internet over a tweet made the BJP’s Tamil Nadu wing. “My first job would be to link Godavari and Krishna and bring water to Tamil Nadu,” it quoted Union Minister Nitin Gadkari as saying. And the statement was followed up by a condescending note that although TN had rejected BJP, BJP will do its duty. Both parts of the tweet were roundly criticised; the first, by people who said Godavari and Krishna were already linked, and that river linking is not necessarily a good idea. And the second by people who pointed out that it was the job of the government to work for all people, and not just people who voted for a particular party.

While there is no argument with the second criticism – indeed, governments should not discriminate against people who may not agree with them, what about the first part? Are Krishna and Godavari already linked? What does this project have to do with Tamil Nadu, a state that neither river passes through?

And what do experts have to say about river-interlinking as a concept?

Godavari and Krishna interlinking

The proposal to link Godavari, which is prone to flooding, and Krishna, which doesn’t have enough water, has been around for several decades. While river-interlinking for the purposes of navigation as an idea was mooted by the British in India, in 1972, engineer and Union Minister KL Rao proposed the linking of Godavari and Krishna for irrigation.

The decades-old proposal finally took shape in the 2000s, and in 2016, the Andhra government linked the two rivers with the Pattiseema Lift Irrigation project, in Andhra’s West Godavari district. On September 15, 2016, the ‘flood water’ from Godavari was diverted to the Prakasam barrage on Krishna river, 124 km away. The project was designed to meet the irrigation and drinking water needs of drought-prone Rayalaseema region in the state.

The project in fact made it to the Limca Book of Records for being completed within a year, but has also been criticised by the CAG for ‘wasting funds.’

The plan for Tamil Nadu

Now, coming to Tamil Nadu. On the day of the Lok Sabha results, in an interview with English news channel Tiranga, Nitin Gadkari had said, “As we said in our manifesto, we will include a branch called Jal Shakti and PM Modi also mentioned this in a meeting recently that where water is less, water (can be transferred) from one basin into another. I am a minister of this branch and we are talking of joining the waters of Godavari and Cauvery.”

What he was referring to is the project to link major peninsular rivers, including the Godavari, Krishna and Cauvery – all of which originate in the Western Ghats and flow towards the east.

According to the feasibility report of the Cauvery Vaigai Gundar project by the National Water Development Agency, the river-linking envisages a diversion of surplus flows of the Mahanadi basin and the Godavari basin, to the water short Krishna, Pennar, Cauvery, Vaigai and Gundar basins in the South.

Basically, the plan is to divert 12,165 mm³ of water annually from Mahanadi to Godavari, through the Mahanadi-Godavari link canal. And then, from Godavari, 26,122 mm³ will be diverted to Krishna through three links – Inchampalli-Nagarjunasagar, Inchampalli-Pulichintala and Polavaram-Vijayawada.

Out of the water thus brought to Krishna, the project will divert 14,080 mm³ to Pennar through three link canals – Almatti-Pennar, Srisailam-Pennar and Nagarjunasagar-Somasila.

And from Pennar, a quantity of 8,565 mm³ of water will be diverted to Cauvery through the Somasila-Grand Anicut link.

The proposed river-link canal would traverse through the districts of Karur, Tiruchchirappalli, Pudukkottai, Sivaganga, Ramanathapuram and Virudhunagar in Tamil Nadu, for a length of 255.60 km. In addition to enabling irrigation, the water is also supposed to provide for domestic and industrial water requirements.

What experts say

However, the new announcement by the Minister has once again sent alarm bells ringing among experts who have pointed out that the notion that the linking of rivers would mean more efficient distribution of water and reduction of flooding is fundamentally flawed.

Speaking to TNM, Professor S Janakarajan of the Madras Institute of Development Studies said that river-linking is not like plumbing work. “It’s not about disconnecting and connecting a pipe. Since the river linking project would amount to changing geography, ecological implications would be huge for the present and more so for the future generations,” he cautioned.

He also questioned the methodology used for the calculation of the supposed surplus, asking, “Surplus in the Godavari basin is reported to be 1,100 TMC ft. This raises questions: who calculated this surplus, when, where and using what methodology? Even if this surplus exists today, it may vanish tomorrow given the increasing demand for water. Surplus is not going to stay forever, it is a dynamic concept.”

“As per the original peninsular river link, first Mahanadhi should be linked Godavari. This should be the first phase. The second phase is linking Godavari, Krishna and Cauvery. Here, without completing the first phase, the second phase is attempted. This is the objection raised by the government of Telangana. The main argument to complete first phase is to get the surplus from Mahanadhi before diverting water from Godavari to other states. Telangana and Andhra Pradesh governments don't agree that there is surplus in Godavari. Where is the surplus emerging from? Can you divert the water without the consent of the riparian states, that too when they are facing acute water scarcity?” he asked.

In addition to these questions, the professor, who specialises in water and environmental issues, said that the lifting and pumping involved in the project would demand a lot of energy which may not be feasible to provide.

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