Q. Comment on the various Pros and Cons of River interlinking projects in India.
The Indian Rivers Inter-link is a proposed large-scale civil engineering project that aims to effectively manage water resources in India by linking Indian rivers by a network of reservoirs and canals and so reduce persistent floods in some parts and water shortages in other parts of India.
The Inter-link project has been split into three parts: a northern Himalayan rivers inter-link component, a southern peninsular component and starting 2005, an intrastate rivers linking component.
The project is being managed by India’s National Water Development Agency (NWDA), under its Ministry of Water Resources.
India receives most of its rain during the monsoon season from June to September, most of it falls in the northern and eastern part of India, the amount of rainfall in the southern and western part are comparatively low. It will be these places which will have a shortage of water. Interlinking of rivers will help these areas to have water throughout the year.
The main occupation of rural India is agriculture and if monsoon fails in a year, then agricultural activities come to a standstill and this will aggravate rural poverty. Interlinking of rivers will be a practical solution for this problem because the water can be stored or water can be transferred from the water surplus area to the deficit.
The Ganga Basin, Brahmaputra basin sees floods almost every year. In order to avoid this, the water from these areas has to be diverted to other areas where there is a scarcity of water. This can be achieved by linking the rivers.
Interlinking of rivers will also have commercial importance on the longer run. This can be used as inland waterways and which helps in faster movement of goods from one place to another.
Interlinking creates a new occupation for people living in and around these canals and it can be the main area of fishing in India.
In a tropical country like India with high evapotranspiration, food security can be achieved with water security which in turn is achieved with energy security to pump water to uplands from water surplus lower elevation river points up to sea level.
Interlinking water surplus rivers with water deficit rivers is needed for the long term sustainable productivity of the river basins and for mitigating the anthropogenic influences on the rivers by allowing adequate salt export to the sea in the form of environmental flows.
Since it will involve the construction of a number of dams, hydel power generation will get a boost. The river interlinking project claims to generate a total power of 34,000 MW (34 GW).
Cropping patterns and irrigation demand for achieving food self-sufficiency are key planks for the NCIWRD justification of NRLP.
Constructing link canals will also provide waterways to ferry goods and people and help reduce pressure on rail and road networks
It is expected to generate large scale business opportunities in the manufacturing sector which will strengthen entrepreneurship and employment
This will make many areas habitable. Currently, some rural areas are facing severe water shortage and this situation is forcing people to migrate to other areas
Despite its obvious benefits, river interlinking can prove to be an impending disaster for the following reasons-
Each river has its own ecology and linking two rivers will have adverse impacts on flora and fauna of both the rivers. Also, reduced water supply in coastal regions will impact deltaic biodiversity.
The interlinking of rivers will cause a huge amount of distortion in the existing environment. In order to create canals and reservoirs, there will be mass deforestation. This will have an impact on rains and in turn affect the whole cycle of life.
International Conflicts – Bangladesh fears vast quantities of water would be diverted from the Ganga and Brahmaputra rivers to India’s southern states, directly threatening the livelihoods of people in the country as well as its environment. These rivers are crucial sources of fresh water for the country. It is considering appealing to the United Nations to redraft international law on water sharing
River inter-linking is an expensive business from building the link canals to the monitoring and maintenance infrastructure. Implementation of the project not only needs a huge financial capital but also political support, both are scarce commodities as of now.
Another important issue is building consensus among states and Land acquisition.
Along with the ecological cost, the project will also bring a great human cost in terms of those displaced by it. Due to the creation of Canals and Reservoirs, a huge amount of area which is occupied by the people will be submerged leading to the displacement of people and the government will have to spend more to rehabilitate these people
It is said that rivers change their course in 70 to 100 years and this can lead to the whole project turning into a complete waste. 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.
Due to the interlinking of rivers, there will be a decrease in the amount of freshwater entering seas and this will cause a serious threat to the marine life system and will be a major ecological disaster.
The amount required for these projects is so huge that the government will have to take loans from the foreign sources which would increase the burden on the government and the country will fall into a debt trap.
States having excess water may not agree to give their share of water to deficient states.
This whole premise of excess water may be proven wrong due to climate change as rivers are becoming drier for more part of the year and there may not be any ‘excess water’ to transfer in few years.
River water distribution is an extremely successful method of ensuring a balanced distribution of precious water resources, and if executed well, the benefits can be reaped by many generations. Numerous countries across the world have successfully implemented such projects — for instance, Mexico. For its city water supply, it transferred water from the Lerma Basin in 1958. The California State Water Project in the US enabled the diversion of four cubic km of water flow from the better watered northern part of the State to the relatively drier southern part. Presently; The Ken-Betwa river-linking project is a progressive step forward, provided the ecological impact is more than adequately compensated for.