[Answered] Interlinking of rivers is a double edged sword. Critically analyse.

Demand of the question
Introduction. Give a contextual introduction.
Body. Various pros and cons of interlinking of rivers.
Conclusion.  Way forward

India has 18 percent of the world’s population but only 4 percent of the usable water resources. The proposal for interlinking of rivers (ILR) can resolve not only water security problems, but have many other benefits too . But there are many issues linked to interlinking of rivers which need to be discussed.

Benefits:

  1. Irrigation- It will irrigate about 87 million acres of farmland. This will reduce farmers’ dependence on monsoon rains by bringing millions of hectares of cultivatable land under irrigation. This will not only benefit farmers but also help in reducing agricultural stress.
  • Greater water equity- It will ensure greater equity in the distribution of water by enhancing the availability of water in drought prone and rain-fed area. Surplus area will share water with deficit areas, thereby reducing inequalities in water availability.
  • Flood Control– Simultaneous floods and droughts lead to havoc in the country, and destroy many lives and livelihoods of millions. Interlinking rivers will ensure excessive water to deficit areas leading to flood control in surplus area and drought control in deficit areas.
  • Clean Energy– India needs clean energy to fuel its development processes, and river water can be leveraged for this. It will generate additional generate hydroelectric power. This will ensure energy security. This will also help in government’s mission to provide electricity to all and will reduce energy deficit in many areas.
  • Better Crop productivity- Interlinking will lead to better soil moisture and groundwater around the areas it will link. This will help better crop production and water availability. Also it will enhance quality of soil.
  • Forestation- Linking river will rejuvenate many areas, leading to life flourish around it. More biodiversity, trees, plants, animals, will flourish around due to availability of water. This will be lead to a healthy ecosystem.
  • Revenue for state- It will provide additional revenue to states through electricity and will save government expenditure. Further it will reduce bad monsoon impact on economy.
  • Water security and poverty alleviation- The river linking project will ease the water shortages in western and southern India while mitigating the impacts of recurrent floods in eastern India. Fulfilling water needs impact socio-economic life of people which will help end poverty.
  • Cooperative federalism– Interlinking of rivers will prevent inter-state water disputes leading to better coordination among states and will promote cooperative federalism. Also it will decrease migration to developed centres due to development of area around linked rivers, leading to less pressure on urban centres.
  • Tourism and transportation- Tourism will increase. Also transportation through navigation and waterways will increase, broadening income sources in rural areas. Also fishing will flourish providing livelihoods to many. This will enhance overall economic growth.

Issues:

  1. Costly- Interlinking of rivers is a very expensive project. It require a lot of government expenditures of centre and states. This will put fiscal burden on already debt ridden states and also will lead to fiscal deficit.
  2. Environmental Cost- The river interlinking project will adversely affect land, forests, biodiversity, rivers and the livelihood of millions of people. Land will be diverted for this purpose that will destroy habitat of many species, endangering the ecosystem. E.g. Ken-Betwa link threatens about 200 sq. km of the Panna tiger reserve. Interlinking of rivers will lead to destruction of forests, wetlands and local water bodies, which are major groundwater recharge mechanisms.
  3. Loss of livelihoods- Many will loose their land and properties which are source of their livelihood. Starting afresh at new place may be difficult to them. Also many may not find job and profession in new region.
  4. Displacement- It causes massive displacement of people. Huge burden on the government to deal with the issue of rehabilitation of displaced people. Also providing compensation to them will not be easy and will put extra fiscal burden. Also it will lead to emotional and psychological stress to displaced communities.
  5. Will lead to wastage of land- The Shah committee pointed out that the linking of rivers will affect natural supply of nutrients for agricultural lands through curtailing flooding of downstream areas. Also Irrigation potential from interlinking rivers will have limited impact. The net national irrigated area from big dams has decreased and India’s irrigated area has gone up primarily due to groundwater.
  6. Change in River course- Usually rivers change their course and direction in about 100 years and if this happens after interlinking, then the project will not be feasible for a longer run and lot of government resources will be wasted.

Way forward:

We must recognize that the Interlinking of rivers could profoundly impact the very integrity of India’s monsoon system. The continuous flow of fresh river water into the sea is what helps maintain a low salinity layer of water and rainfall over much of the subcontinent is controlled by this layer of low-salinity water. A proper analysis of impact of interlinking project need to be done with proper cost-benefit analysis. As benefits of river interlinking are many but it comes at some cost. Therefore caution is must.

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