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Inter Linking of Rivers- An overview

Context

  • The government is all set to begin work to connect around 60 of India’s largest rivers despite several issues still awaiting to be sorted out before the ambitious river linking project is taken up

What is the significance of the National River Linking Project (NRLP)?

  • The National River Linking Project (NRLP) is a proposed large-scale project that aims to link Indian rivers by a network of reservoirs and canals
  • It aims at reducing persistent floods in Eastern India and water shortages in Southern and Western India
  • The project aims to transfer water from water ‘excess’ basins where there is flooding to water ‘deficit’ basins where there is drought/scarcity

What is the scope of the project?

  • The National River Interlinking Project will comprise of 30 links to connect 37 rivers across the nation through a network of nearly 3000 storage dams

The NRLP has three major donor river basins:

  • the Brahmaputra in the Himalayan component
  • Mahanadi and the Godavari in the peninsular component
  • The Himalayan component proposes to transfer 33 BCM of water through 16 river links.

It has two sub component linking:

  • Ganga and Brahmaputra basins to Mahanadi basin and
  • Eastern Ganga tributaries and Chambal and Sabarmati river basins
  • The Peninsular component proposes to transfer 141 BCM water through 14 river links.

It has four sub component linking:

  • Mahanadi and Godavari basins to Krishna, Cauvery and Vaigai rivers
  • West-flowing rivers south of Tapi to the north of Bombay
  • Ken River to Betwa River and Parbati, Kalisindh rivers to Chambal rivers
  • Some West flowing rivers to the East flowing rivers

What are the three components of river linking projects?

It has been split into three parts:

  • Northern Himalayan Rivers interlink component.
  • A southern peninsular component.
  • An intra-State rivers linking component.

What is the present status?

  • Godavari River had been formally interlinked with the Krishna River at Ibrahimpatnam near Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh in September 2015.
  • Ken-Betwa link project has been declared as National Project by the Government of India-
    • The Ken-Betwa link envisages diversion of surplus waters of Ken basin to water deficit Betwa basin.

Why is there a need for interlinking of rivers?

  • The rainfall is highly variable across India- the east and north get most of the rain, while the west and south get less
  • India also sees years of excess monsoons and floods, followed by late monsoons with droughts.
  • This geographical and time variance in the availability of natural water versus the year round demand for irrigation, drinking and industrial water creates a demand-supply gap.
  • Proponents of river-linking project claims that India’s water problem can be solved by conserving monsoon water in reservoirs and delivering this water to water-scarce regions using rivers interlinking projects.

What are the proposed benefits of river interlinking?

Irrigation Benefits:

  • The project is expected to provide additional irrigation to 35 million hectares in the water-scarce western and peninsular regions.
  • This will further create employment, boost crop outputs and farm incomes
  • The irrigation benefits would also ensure food security in the country.

Transport:

  • The project is expected to offer potential benefits to the transport sector through navigation
  • River transports is cheaper
  • It is a non-polluting transport Alternative-It has a low carbon footprint.

Hydropower Development

  • The river interlinking project claims to generate total power of 34,000 MW (34 GW)

Water Supply

  • The project envisages supply of clean drinking water and water for industrial use amounting to 90 and 64.8 billion cum. respectively with a view to meet the demand by 2050.

Flood and Drought Mitigation

  • The project is expected to eradicate the flooding problems which recur in the northeast and the north every year
  • It is also expected to mitigate drought conditions in rainfall deficit areas

Dry Weather Flow Augmentation

  • Transfer of surplus water stored in reservoirs during monsoon and releasing it during dry season will ensure a minimum amount of dry weather flow in the rivers

Increased Employment opportunities in rural areas

  • The proposed link canals and the storages are expected to create large employment opportunities for the rural youths.

Defense

  • The Project is expected to provide for enhancing the security of the country by an additional waterline of defense

What are the major criticisms of interlinking of rivers in India?

Environmental Impacts:

  • If the glaciers don’t sustain their glacier mass due to climate change, the very concept that the donor basin (mostly Himalayan rivers) has surplus water that can be made available for the recipient basin, will change.

Submergence of vast areas of land in reservoirs

  • linking of the Ken and Betwa rivers at the Panna Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh is expected to submerge an important wildlife habitat which is home to many endangered species

Threat to Himalayan Forest

  • The Ganga basin’s topography is flat, building dams would not substantially add to river flows and these dams could threaten the forests of the Himalayas. This may impact the functioning of the monsoon system.

Loss of livelihood and displacement of people:

  • Loss of land, forests and fisheries on which most of the poor and tribal people sustain their livelihood

Geopolitical Constraints:

  • Some of the inter-linking of rivers schemes has international implications, with a possible impact on countries like Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh
  • Bangladesh strongly objects to transferring the Brahmaputra water to the Ganga

Massive investment required for implementation

  • The estimated cost for the implementation of the project at 2000 price index is Rs.5.6 lakh crores, which is likely to further increase manifold.

Inter-state disputes

  • In India ‘s constitution, water is essentially a state subject.
  • Several states including Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Assam and Sikkim have already opposed ILR projects

Flood Control

  • It is doubtful whether interlinking projects can provide flood proofing.
  • Theoretically, a large reservoir can help moderate floods in the downstream areas.

Non-viability of large hydropower projects:

  • Interlinking of rivers will need more power to lift the water than what it is likely to produce.

Can the ambitious linking project serve its purpose? 

  • The river linking project promises a great concern for water conservation and optimum use of available water resources.
  • The project has however, socio-economic, political and environmental implications.
  • There is an urgent need to examine the feasibility of inter-river links.
  • The Government has also ignored the dynamics of the river while planning the project
  • A detailed hydrological, geological, meteorological and environmental analysis of the project should be done
  • The Government has formulated such a huge project while ignoring the alternatives such as decentralized watershed development
  • There is much to be done before embarking on a gigantic project of river linking.
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