Interlinking of Rivers Project in India – Explained, Pointwise

Introduction

The Prime Minister and the Chief Ministers of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh signed an agreement to implement the first phase of the Interlinking of Rivers project. The tripartite agreement aims to implement the Ken-Betwa River Link Project (KBLP). It is a historical moment in the ambitious interlinking of rivers project in India. In this context, this article will explain the interlinking of rivers projects and the challenges associated with them.

About Ken-Betwa Link Project
  • Both the Ken and Betwa river are tributaries of the river Yamuna.
  • It is the first project under the National Perspective Plan for the interlinking of rivers.
  • Under this project, water from the Ken River will get transferred to the Betwa river.
  • This project will spread across the districts of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.

About the National River Linking Project (NRLP)

The interlinking of rivers is a large-scale civil engineering project that aims to effectively manage water resources in India.  The government aims to achieve this by building a network of reservoirs and canals through a National River Linking Project (NRLP). It is also known as the National Perspective Plan

  • The main objective is to transfer water from water ‘surplus’ basins suffering from floods to water ‘deficit’ basins suffering from drought/scarcity.
  • The implementation of the NRLP will form a gigantic South Asian Water Grid with a network of nearly 3000 storage dams
  • The then Ministry of Irrigation prepared this plan of interlinking of rivers in August 1980.
  • The NRLP is managed by National Water Development Agency (NWDA) under the Ministry of Jal Shakti.

  • The plan proposes 30 river links to connect 37 rivers across India under two components:
    1. Himalayan Rivers Development Component: Under this, 14 river links are identified. This has two sub-components
      1. Connecting the Ganga and Brahmaputra basins to the Mahanadi basin.
      2. Connecting the Eastern tributaries of the Ganga with the Sabarmati and Chambal river systems.
    2. Peninsular Rivers Development Component or the Southern Water Grid:  This includes 16 river links. Ken Betwa Link Project is one among them. This part has four sub-components;
      1. Linking Mahanadi and Godavari river basins to Cauvery, Krishna, and Vaigai river systems.
      2. Interlinking the West-flowing rivers to the south of Tapi to the north of Bombay.
      3. Interlinking a few west-flowing rivers to the east-flowing rivers.
      4. Other projects include connecting Ken to the Betwa river, and Parbati & Kalisindh rivers to the Chambal river.
Present Status of the Interlinking of Rivers project
  • Godavari River has been formally interlinked with the Krishna River at Ibrahimpatnam (near Vijayawada) in Andhra Pradesh in September 2015.
  • India declared the Ken-Betwa Link project as the National Project. The recent agreement aims to implement the interlinking of the Ken and Betwa rivers.
Advantages of Interlinking of Rivers
  1. Hydrological Imbalance of India: India has a large-scale hydrological imbalance with an effective rainfall period of 28 to 29 days. Further, there are certain regions that receive very high rainfall and cause flooding. On the other hand, there are regions with heavy water shortages and face droughts. Interlinking would transfer the water from flood-prone regions to draught-prone regions.
  2. Improve the inland navigation: Interlinking of rivers will create a network of navigation channels. Water transport is cheaper, less-polluting compare to the road and railways. Further, the interlinking of rivers can ease the pressure on railways and roads also.
  3. The benefit of irrigation: The interlinking of rivers has the potential to irrigate 35 million hectares of land in the water-scarce western peninsula. This will help India to create employment, boost crop outputs, farm incomes. Above all, the interlinking of rivers will make India a step closer to achieving food security.
  4. Development of power: The interlinked rivers have the potential to generate a total power of 34000 MW(34 GW). This will help India to reduce coal-based power plant usage. Furthermore, It will also help to achieve India’s Nationally Determined Contribution in Paris Climate Agreement.
  5. Other benefits: 
    1. Water supply: The project envisages a supply of clean drinking water amounting to 90 billion CBM(Cubic Meter). It can resolve the issue of drinking water scarcity in India.
    2. Similarly, interlinking of water also provides water for industrial use amount to 64.8 billion CBM.
    3. Apart from that, interlinking can help the survival of fisheries, protect wildlife in the summer months due to water scarcity. It can also reduce forest fires occurring in India due to climatic conditions.
    4. India can also explore an additional line of defence in the form of waterline defence.
Challenges in Interlinking of Rivers

The interlinking of rivers project has a variety of challenges. They are,

  1. Environmental Challenges: The critics of the interlinking of rivers point out certain major environmental challenges with interlinking. They are,
    1. Submergence of vast areas of land in reservoirs: The construction of dams leads to large-scale submergence of land. The government has to acquire large-scale lands for the smooth implementation of the project. But acquiring land for the project is not easy.
    2. Getting permits from Environmental agencies.  The submergence of land many times falls within the wildlife and protected areas. For example, In the Ken-Betwa Link Project land alone, nearly two-thirds of the land(4,206 ha of the land) falls within the Panna Tiger Reserve. So getting Environmental clearance and conducting an Environmental Impact Assessment is very hard.
  2. Social Challenges: This includes the challenge of loss of livelihood and displacement of peopleThe large-scale submergence of land has to be compensated by displacing people in that area. Especially, the poor and tribal people located near the forests. So, the government not only needs to face challenges in displacing people but also in the Rehabilitation of people.
  3. International Challenges: Countries like Bhutan, Nepal, and Bangladesh will get impact due to the Interlinking of Rivers project. For example, Bangladesh strongly objects to transferring the Brahmaputra water to the Ganga. Considering this, the smooth implementation of the project is not expected.
  4. Political Challenges: Water is a state subject in India. So the implementation of the NRLP primarily depends on Inter-State co-operation. Several states including Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, and Sikkim have already opposed the NRLP.
  5. Economic Challenges: NRLP is a highly capital-intensive project. The project will need Rs.5.6 lakh crores(estimated cost with the base year of 2000). A report points out that Climate change will cause a meltdown of 1/3rd of the Hindu Kush Region’s glaciers by 2100. So, the Himalayan rivers might not have ‘surplus water’ for a long time. Considering this, investing billions of money in the interlinking of rivers might yield benefits only for a short time.
  6. Other Challenges: The government is proposing a canal irrigation method for transmitting water from one area to the other. The maintenance of canals is also a great challenge it includes preventing sedimentation, clearing logging of waters etc.
Suggestions
  1. Integrated water resource management is the key for India. India needs to conserve every drop of water, reduce wastage,  equitable distribution of resources at the same time enhance groundwater. So the small scale simple things have to be tried instead of large scale projects.
  2. Instead of interlinking rivers, India can try the concept of virtual water. For Example: Suppose when a country imports one tonne of wheat instead of producing it domestically, it is saving about 1,300 cubic meters of the local water. The local water can be saved and used for other purposes.
  3. The government can invest the money in other areas instead of investing money for the interlinking of rivers. Such as,
    • Conducting awareness campaigns to reduce water and food wastage. For example, the recent catch the rain campaign.
    • Can create Rainwater harvesting systems like that it created toilets with Swachh Bharat Mission. This will not only increase the groundwater recharge but also reduce soil erosion, stormwater runoff, flooding, etc.

Conclusion

We need to understand the importance of achieving small things. After all, “Big visions are realized through small steps only”. So, the government has to conduct a detailed hydrological, geological, meteorological and environmental analysis of the interlinking of rivers. In that, the government must analyze the alternatives also.

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