Anisha Sheth
news Sunday, August 16, 2015 - 05:30

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu on Saturday dedicated the Pattiseema project to the people of the state. The project aims linking the Godavari river with Krishna river by diverting the “surplus water” to Prakasam barrage.

For over 40 years, people have been discussing the inter-linking of rivers. It was one of the poll planks of the BJP ahead of the Lok Sabha elections last year. But just what does river-linking actually mean?

The logic of the plan

Transferring the “surplus” water in the perennial Himalayan rivers to the drier, peninsular rivers.

Primary objectives

Mitigating water shortage in western and southern India.

Flood control in eastern India.

History

Sir Arthur Cotton, a British engineer had first proposed building a series of canals throughout the country, transferring water from "water-surplus" rivers to "water-deficit"one. However, Cotton had intended it more for navigation than anything else. But the idea stuck, and resurced over half a century later. 

In 1972, an engineer named K L Rao, a well-respected technocrat and former irrigation minister proposed the idea of a Ganga-Cauvery river link. But it was Captain Dinshaw J Dastur, a pilot who came up with the grand plan of constructing a Garland Canal – a series of canals that would link the Himalayan rivers in north India with the southern rivers.

In 1982, the central government created the National Water Development Agency, with the sole purpose of implementing the project. What it has done so far, is just spend a lot of money.

Currently, 30 river links are to be taken up, but none of them have been completed. All proposed projects are in various stages of study.

Rivers are both a central and a state subject, which mandates a consultative procedure. Not all states are on board with the project.

If implemented in its entirety, the project would be the largest inter-basin transfer involving the transfer of 174 billion cubic metres (BCM) of water through a network of around 3,000 storage structures and 14,900 km of canals.

According to the Indus Research Centre: “ILR will handle four times more water than the China’s South to North water transfer project, itself one of the largest inter-basin water transfer projects implemented in the world. ILR will handle four times more water than the three Gorges project; 5 times all inter- basin water transfers completed in the U.S.A; and more than 6 times the total transfers of the 6 inter-basin water transfers project completed in India.”

In 2003, in response to a Public Interest Litigation filed by a lawyer, the Supreme Court – in perceived judicial overreach – directed the central government to complete the project by 2016. However, none of the links is completed.

Project cost

According to a research paper titled: “The National River Linking Project of India – Some Contentious Issues” the cost of the project is likely to be over 120 billion USD (2000 prices). The Himalayan component is expected to cost around 23 billion USD, the Peninsular component 40 billion USD, and the hydro-power component 58 billion USD.

Benefits

The centre also cites research done on similar inter-basin water transfer projects in the world – mainly in the Unites States and in China – to say that while there were certain unintended effects of the river-links, the concept was on the whole beneficial.

Arguments against

Environmentalists and water experts including the South Asia Network on Dams Rivers and People say that the inter-linking of rivers is a bad idea because the foundation on which the edifice is built is faulty – the concepts of surplus and drought, the effects of dams, faulty ecological understanding.

Surplus

In a research paper published in Economic and Political Weekly, Jayanta Bandopadhyay says that the idea that a river could be water suplus or water deficit was outdated, and based on flawed assumptions. He also says that the global experience with the inter-linking of rivers shows serious problems that were not foreseen.

Director for the Centre of Science and Environment Sunita Narain says that far from having “excess” water of any kind, most river basins in the country are over-used and that “in most regions tension is growing between old rural users of surface water and new industrial and urban users”.

Flooding

Many researchers have pointed out that while have floods always occurred, the scale of death and damage in recent years, is more of a man-made tragedy on account of the blocking of naturally occurring river channels.

For instance, the river Kosi, is surrounded by flood plains. When the river floods in the monsoons, the water carries fertile soil and deposits it on the plains, keeping up the natural productivity of the soil. The water, would receded in a day or two, unlike what is being seen in recent times.

Narrain also says that flood waters cannot be channelized as a matter of logic. Logistically, she says that when one river is in spate, so is another river, requiring humungous storage facilities. She adds that the environmental cost of these reservoirs had simply not been factored in.

Drought

Classifications of drought and aridness had to be based on years of climatic data, and compared with data on water. Journalist P Sainath in his book Everybody Loves a Good Drought points out that drought in many parts of the country was an artificially created phenomenon based on water use and cropping patterns that were stretching the resources available.

Himanshu Thakker of the SADNDRP says that places many parts of Bihar were dry before the monsoon and that once it raised, they were flooded. In contrast, although Cherrapunje is the wettest place in the country, in April, the region actually faces water scarcity.

Irrigation

Narain concedes that India will gain from investment in irrigation, but points out that the government itself had pointed out that the irrigation potential already created was not being utilized effectively.

Political reactions

Former environment minister Jairam Ramesh called it an social, economic and ecological “disaster”. Late former president APJ Abdul Kalam endorsed it, just as he has a number of other ideas in which he has little expertise. Trade and industry bodies such as FICCI have organized consulations on the subject.

 

he scale of death and damage in recent years, is more of a man-made tragedy on account of the blocking of naturally occurring river channels. For instance, the river Kosi, is surrounded by flood plains. When the river floods in the monsoons, the water carries fertile soil and deposits it on the plains, keeping up the natural productivity of the soil. The water, would receded in a day or two, unlike what is being seen in recent times. Narrain also says that flood waters cannot be channelized as a matter of logic. Logistically, she says that when one river is in spate, so is another river, requiring humungous storage facilities. She adds that the environmental cost of these reservoirs had simply not been factored in. Drought Classifications of drought and aridness had to be based on years of climatic data, and compared with data on water. Journalist P Sainath in his book Everybody Loves a Good Drought points out that drought in many parts of the country was an artificially created phenomenon based on water use and cropping patterns that were stretching the resources available. Himanshu Thakker of the SADNDRP says that places many parts of Bihar were dry before the monsoon and that once it raised, they were flooded. In contrast, although Cherrapunje is the wettest place in the country, in April, the region actually faces water scarcity. Irrigation Narain concedes that India will gain from investment in irrigation, but points out that the government itself had pointed out that the irrigation potential already created was not being utilized effectively. Political reactions Former environment minister Jairam Ramesh called it an social, economic and ecological “disaster”. Late former president APJ Abdul Kalam endorsed it, just as he has a number of other ideas in which he has little expertise. Trade and industry bodies such as FICCI have organized consulations on the subject.  zzz