Govt plan to interlink rivers has problems (GS Paper 2,3)
The comprehensive proposal to link Himalayan rivers with Peninsular rivers for inter-basin transfer of water was estimated to cost around Rs 5,60,000 crore in 2001. Land submergence and R&R (relief and rehabilitation) packages would be additional to this cost. There are no firm estimates available for running costs of the scheme, such as the cost of power required to lift water.
Interlinking of rivers was a concept that originated in the 1980s and a separate organisation, the National Water Development Agency, was created to carry out feasibility studies.
India’s National Water Development Agency (NWDA) has suggested the interlinking of rivers of the country. This proposal is better known as the Inter-River Linking Project (IRL). It is designed to ease water shortages in western and southern India and aims to link 30 major rivers. The interlinking of rivers has two components:
- The Himalayan component.
- The Peninsular component.
At present, 30 inter-basin transfer links are proposed, involving rivers across the country.
The first of these projects to be taken up for implementation — the Ken-Betwa link in Madhya Pradesh — has been approved by the Cabinet and is awaiting environmental clearance, amid protests by water activists and civil society organisations.
Polavaram project of linking Godavari & Krishna already done.
Major advantages of ILR
- Properly planned water resource development and management could alleviate poverty, improve the quality of life, and reduce regional disparities, better law and order situation and manage the integrity of the natural environment.
- Provide employment to the 10 lakh people for the next 10 years;
- Create the potential to increase agricultural production by an additional 100 per cent over the next five years;
- Avoid the crop losses because of extreme draught or flood condition;
- Providing canal irrigation, increasing arable land, help in reclaiming waste land.
- With new canals and dams built, feasibility to generatehydroelectric power becomes a possibility.
- Unify the country by involving every Panchayat as a share holder and implement agency;
- Provide for enhancing the security of the country by an additional waterline of defense;
- Eradicate the flooding problems which recur in the north-east and the north every year;
- Solve the water crisis situation by providing alternative, perennial water resources;
- The large canals linking the rivers are also expected to facilitate inland navigation;
- Increasing food production from about 200m tones a year to 500m;
- Boost the annual average income of farmers, from the present $40 per acre of land to over $500.
Issues and challenges of ILR
This project involves multifaceted issues and challenges related to economic, ecological, and social costs. It is a mega project that engages money, resources, engineering, management and human understanding.
- Obstructing natural flow and changing courses of river-One of the major concerns is that rivers change their course in 70–100 years and thus once they are linked, future change of course could create huge practical problems for the project. The Union ministry of environment and forests has already said no to the project.
- Aqua life and impact of fisheries– Environmentalistsare of the view that the project could be an ecological disaster. There would be a decrease in downstream flows resulting in reduction of fresh water inflows into the seas seriously jeopardizing aquatic life. Along the east coast of India, all major peninsular rivers have extensive deltas. Damming the rivers for linking will cut down sediment supply and cause coastal and delta erosion, destroying the fragile coastal ecosystems
- Deforestation– Creation of canals and dams would need large areas of land resulting large scaledeforestation in certain areas
- Areas getting submerged-Threat of large habitable or reserved land getting submerged under water or surface water.
- Displacement of people –A considerable population living in the ensuing areas of canals/dams must need to be rehabilitated to new areas.
- Social unrest/Psychological damage due to forced resettlement of local people (for example, Sardar Sarovar Project)
- Political effects: Water sharing disputes in India has long history. In India‘s constitution, water is essentially a state subject. This project may fuel the fire of intra-state tussle and states may not be willing to share their share of river water for neighboring states. There are also important institutional and legal issues to be sorted out. Several states including Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Assam and Sikkim have already opposed ILR projects.
- International repercussions: Strained relationship with neighbors (Pakistan, Bangladesh). Bangladesh fears that diversion of water from the Brahmaputra and the Ganges would result into an ecological disaster.
- Financial strain on government – The project involves mammoth investment, estimated cost in 2002 of the project was Rs 5,60,000 crore.
What are the alternatives of this project?
There are few alternatives suggested based on sustainable water conservation techniques-
- To conserve water in the soil through organic farming. Organic farming increases humus, which can hold 90 per cent of its weight in water. Organic soils become a water reservoir, in contrast to chemically farmed soil which demand intensive irrigation and have no water holding capacity.
- The second is water harvesting on a national scale. This is how the tank systems in the Deccan were built, this is how the Chandelas and Bundelas created the water infrastructure that has fallen into disrepair.