The news is by your side.

Does the flood deluge re-ignite debate over interlinking of rivers?


Torrential rains, merciless rivers, landslides, and floods have hit the northern areas of Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, and Punjab. Later, Assam and Bihar will feel the wrath of the floods, which will be a constant and daunting threat. The devastating visuals of flooding have rekindled the idea of interlinking rivers and canals to channel flood water into productive usages.

The debate on the interlinking of rivers has been raging for years, examined by experts, successive governments, and civil society, but the deliberations are yet to be concluded. Home to seven major river systems and over four hundred rivers, India is gifted with elaborate water systems divided into Himalayan and Peninsular rivers. Credited with India’s most significant water infrastructure projects, Kanuri Lakshmana Rao, who was the Union Minister of Irrigation & Power and Member of Parliament for Vijayawada from 1962 to 1977 under Prime Ministers Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri, and Indira Gandhi, was the first one to propose a National Water Grid. He argued for an intricate web of linking dams and rivers to benefit the parched regions of India. Since then, despite arguments, feasibility reports, and committees, more needs to be achieved. Little-known Bombay-based consultant engineer Dinshaw Dastur had envisioned the Garland Canal Scheme in 1978, which proposed to build a Himalayan Catchment Canal and the Central Deccan and Southern Plateau Canal with a series of lakes and canals that will aid in water redistribution.

To develop feasibility assessments for the Jal Shakti Ministry, the National Water Development Agency (NWDA) has identified 30 linkages (16 under the Peninsular Component & 14 under the Himalayan Component). To ascertain the potential, planning is underway for four projects: Ken-Betwa Link, Damanganga-Pinjal Link, Par-Tapi-Narmada Link, and Godavari-Cauvery Link, which are under active preparation to determine the feasibility. The NWDA has also prepared the feasibility reports of all the nine links under the system of Mahanadi-Godavari-Krishna-Pennar-Palar-Cauvery–Vaigai–Gundar linkages, Manas–Sankosh – Teesta – Ganga link, Gandak-Ganga link (Indian portion), Rajasthan -Sabarmati link, Farakka – Sundarban Link, Ganga-DamodarSubernarekha and Subarnarekha – Mahanadi Link projects. The present government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi has placed its bets to interlink the Ken-Betwa River Interlinking Project with an ambitious outlay of Rs 44600 crore which will help to generate 103 MW of hydroelectric power and is expected to irrigate 6.3 lakh hectares of land every year. Pattiseema Lift Irrigation Project is another example of linking the Krishna and Godavari rivers, which aim to provide water to the drought-prone Rayalaseema region. Experts and activists have raised concerns about the long-term ecological damage and alleged advantages of river connection.

India is inspired by international initiatives to connect rivers. Rhine–Main–Danube Canal in Germany, Illinois Waterway linking Calumet River with the Illinois River, the Tennessee–Tombigbee Waterway and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway in the United States of America, Central Yunnan Water Diversion Project and South–North Water Transfer Project in China and the Murray–Darling basin in Australia are some of the leading interlinking projects in the world.

The proponents of the interlinking project cite the Central Water Commission, Ministry of Jalshakti, year-wise flood chart, which estimates the average annual losses due to flooding from 1953 to 2020 at more than 4.3 lakh crores to the nation. The report states the area impacted by flooding at 492 million hectares, crop area impacted at 275 million hectares, and corresponding crop losses at 1.3 lakh crore. One of the advantages is increased energy production and delivery in places where it has been scarce. There are eight distinct classes of flood damage, as defined by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA). These include (1) The devastation of Property and Life; (2) Livestock, crops, and agriculture; (3) Energy and Communication facilities; (4) Food and Drinking Water; (5) Shortage of Basic Necessities; (6) Outbreak of Epidemics, (7) Health Hazards and (8) Economic Activities.

The deficit-surplus theory manages excess water and permits it to flow to a deficient location, which is the basis for the advantages argued for by proponents. On paper, the benefits of river diversion include growth in several areas: the economy, agriculture, energy production, clean drinking water, and a water reserve that can withstand foreign threats.

Interlinking rivers can significantly expand irrigation potential, enabling farmers to grow multiple crops and enhancing agricultural productivity. This, in turn, can contribute to food security and rural revitalization. The project has the potential to facilitate hydropower production via the utilization of water flow in the linked rivers, meeting the energy demands of the nation while decreasing its dependency on fossil fuels. Increased water availability for agriculture, industries, and households can foster economic growth in regions that have struggled due to water scarcity, leading to job creation and improved living standards. Interlinking rivers can facilitate water transport, making it a greener and more cost-effective mode of transportation and reducing the pressure on road and rail infrastructure. Properly planned interlinking projects can be designed to improve river water flow, which may help restore degraded ecosystems and support aquatic biodiversity. Reducing inter-state water conflicts and fostering regional justice may be accomplished via the interconnection of rivers. The interconnected river system can help buffer the impact of climate change by managing water resources more effectively and adapting to changing rainfall patterns. According to its proponents, interconnecting rivers is a holistic and sustainable method of water management that will allow the nation to satisfy the water needs of its fast-expanding population. Primary motivations for interlinking include the redistribution of agricultural patterns and advantages to regional ecological systems.

However, critics argue the monstrous expenditure attached to the interlinking of rivers is not feasible for India. Estimates range from over $100-120 billion to foot the bill of thirty projects under active consideration. Environmental shifts, water table ramifications, soil conditions, agricultural patterns, and intrastate and interstate water disputes threaten to destabilize the fragile balance of the country. Interlinking rivers can cause significant disruptions to natural ecosystems and habitats. It can lead to loss of biodiversity, disruption of aquatic life, and damage to sensitive ecosystems, particularly in the areas where the canals are constructed. The interlinking of rivers is an enormous and expensive undertaking. Building canals, reservoirs, and associated infrastructure can be exorbitant and strain the country’s financial resources. The construction of canals and reservoirs can result in the displacement of local communities and farmers. This can lead to social conflicts and hardships for the affected people, especially if proper rehabilitation measures are not adopted. The promised benefits of interlinking rivers, such as increased irrigation and reduced floods, may materialize differently than expected. The ability to precisely forecast actual results is complicated because water supply and demand might fluctuate. When rivers are connected, water from multiple sources becomes mixed, which may degrade overall water quality. This can result in contamination and impact human health and agricultural productivity. Interlinking rivers often involve numerous states and can lead to complex legal and political disputes over water rights, usage, and sharing, which may escalate tensions between states. Changes in precipitation and river flow due to climate change cast doubt on the long-term viability of interconnecting projects and may exacerbate existing water problems. Instead of relying solely on large-scale engineering projects like river interlinking, focusing on water conservation, rainwater harvesting, and efficient water management practices could be a more sustainable and cost-effective solution.

Interlinking rivers is a time-consuming process that involves detailed planning, land acquisition, and environmental clearances. Failure in implementation can hinder the benefits that the project aims to achieve. Once canals are constructed and rivers are interconnected, reversing the process becomes highly challenging, making it crucial to thoroughly assess potential adverse impacts before undertaking such projects.

A national consensus is needed on this one.



Views expressed above are the author’s own.


Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.