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Linking of Rivers will lead to Aral Sea type disasters

Written By Gopal Krishna on Wednesday, December 31, 2008 | 1:52 AM

Linking of rivers, a monstrous project
Interlinking of rivers, the world's biggest project which entails rewriting the geography of the sub-continent is based on the same flawed economic ideology and philosophy that privatizes profit and socializes cost. India occupies 2.45 per cent of the earth's surface and 72 per cent of South Asia. If one analyses the topography of the country, one can see that there can be no acceptable way of making a water network in the country as it entails diverting the natural course of the rivers, which would lead to several Aral Sea type disasters (where two Siberian rivers were diverted).

Even before one proposes such mega projects it is reasonable to seek a performance assessment of all hydro power projects built till date.

The National Commission for Water Resource Development, set up by the ministry of water resources under the chairmanship of S.R. Hashim, had submitted a report, namely the Integrated Water Resource Development Plan. The report says: "The Himalayan river linking data is not freely available, but on the basis of public information, it appears that the Himalayan river-linking component is not feasible for the period of review up to 2050."

Ganga, deemed as a "surplus" river is a trans-boundary river from which water is planned to be removed to relieve flood by means of barrage-canal works for transfer to Subarnarekha-Mahanadi-Godavari-Krishna-Pennar-Cauvery flows during monsoon flood at the average rate of 50,000 cumecs, creating an annual disaster. If Ganga is indeed a surplus river why has the Prime Ministers Office chosen to create a Ganga River Basin Authority and advocate Ganga river basin approach.

However, the if flood is to be relieved, water in substantial quantity needs to be removed by means of the link canals that will "be 50 to 100 m wide and more than 6 m deep", according to government's website explaining the modus operandi of "benefits." When a 10 m deep 100 m wide lined canal can at most carry about 1,500 cumecs of water, that would relieve flood only to the extent of 3 per cent and that too only downstream of the canal.

In the present scheme of things, if the Himalayan links are not being taken up as per the Government of India's statement to Bangladesh, there is no reason to take up the peninsular links because Brahmaputra or Ganga water will not reach Godavari and the system of water supply to Cauvery will fail. The scheme appears to be poorly conceived and designed, and is unworkable. Therefore, claim of flood and drought relief is misplaced.

The ministry of water resources has prepared a master plan suggesting that the water requirements can be met through artificial recharge of the ground water at a very minimum cost compared to ILR. It was in the backdrop of rejection by a high powered committee, which has deemed the project undesirable that the GoI used the President of India to re-propose this project on August 14, 2002.

Besides, this project involves major international rivers such as the Ganga and the Brahmaputra with their tributaries. Even the peninsular component is linked with them through the Subarnarekha-Mahanadi and Mahanadi-Godabari links. The transfer of water from the Ganga and the Brahmaputra and their tributaries and distributaries will affect all co-riparian countries.

Bangladesh as the downstream country will be particularly affected immediately, whose deltaic ecology and economy depend crucially on the water of the Ganga, the Brahmaputra, and other international rivers that flow through India . The annual monsoon inundation is a normal feature of the delta formation process in Bangladesh, and hence it cannot be used as a ground for large-scale water transfer from these common rivers.

The withdrawal of the Ganga water at Farakka has already caused serious damage to the ecology and economy of south-western districts of Bangladesh, including the Sundarbans, the unique mangrove forests along the Bay of Bengal. Further withdrawal of water of the Ganga and the Brahmaputra, as envisioned, will threaten the country's economy and ecology, making it impossible for Bangladesh to concede to this project. Apart from presenting a considerable technical challenge, that of having to transfer the Brahmaputra and the Ganga waters, it will contravene basic principles of international law and their standard practices, and would adversely impact India's relationship with Bangladesh.

Unmindful of such a backdrop, it is noteworthy that Parliamentarians like Suresh Prabhu and Rajeev Chandrasekhar are known for their advocacy of Interlinking of Rivers. Not surprisingly, Chandrasekhar who is also the President of Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) has referred to linking of rivers as a solution to Kosi floods. Most recently, he has constituted a FICCI Task Force on Kosi River Management with Prabhu as its Chairman. Not long ago, Prabhu was also the Chairman of the Task Force on Interlinking of Rivers and had launched his work with a National Conference organised by FICCI. Chandrasekhar, former Chairperson of Government of Karnataka’s Infrastructure Task Force has contributed Rs 1 crore for Bihar flood victims. It may be recollected that Rajinikanth, the film star too had donated Rs 1 crore for interlinking of rivers in India.

Earlier the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Water Resources had invited comments on the project from the public for a debate in Parliament, but even before any such thing happened an agreement on Ken-Betwa was signed between the states and the Central government. The government, courts and the parliament ought to take cognizance of the adverse ecological consequences of such a massive scheme. But these institutions have emerged as a threat to our ecosystem in general and rivers in particular because they remain wedded to the idea of mega projects which has emerged from the same economic ideology that has led to financial collapse and the ecological crisis.

Gopal Krishna

1. National Projects & Interlinking of Rivers: Union Water Resources Ministry

The States of Maharashtra and Gujarat have given their concurrence on the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for taking up work of preparation of Detailed Project Report (DPR) of two more priority river links namely ‘Par-Tapi-Narmada’ and ‘Daman-Ganga-Pinjal’. The works of preparation of DPR of the Ken-Betwa Link project is constantly under review and is likely to be finalized shortly.

The 24th Annual General meeting of National Water Development Agency (NWDA) held in July 2008 reviewed the progress of Interlinking of Rivers programme in the presence of Water Resources ministers of many States.

The Central Government has declared 14 water resources projects as National Projects subject to working out the mode of financing in consultation with Ministry of Finance and Planning Commission. For these projects, it is proposed to provide 90 per cent project cost of irrigation and drinking water component of the project as Central grant after techno-economic appraisal of the Detailed Project Report (DPR) and investment clearance by the Planning Commission. The irrigation benefit from theses projects is estimated to be about 21 lakh ha apart from additional indirect benefits and availability of drinking water.

These National Projects are: Nao Dehang Dam Project and Upper Siang Project (Arunachal Pradesh); Kulsi Dam Project (Assam) ; Renuka Dam Project and Gyspa Project (Himachal Pradesh) ; Kishau Project (Himachal Pradesh/Uttarakhand) ; Bursar Project and Ujh Multipurpose Project (Jammu & Kashmir) ; Ken-Betwa Project (Madhya Pradesh) ; Gosikhurd Project (Maharashtra) ; Shahpur Kandi Project and 2nd. Ravi Vyas Link (Punjab); Lakhvar Vyasi Project (Uttarakhand) ; and Teesta Barraga Project (West Bengal).

2. Bihar Government seeks Rs 3580 crore for linking of rivers

Bihar Government on December 11, 2008 made a strong pitch before the 13th Finance Commission for Rs 4.18 lakh crore for all-round development of the state.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi, Water Resources Development Minister Bijendra Prasad Yadav, Chief Secretary R J M Pillai and departmental secretaries made a presentation before a delegation of Finance Commission, headed by its chairman Vijay Kelkar.

The state government requested the Commission to make available Rs 17,886 crore as special package to the state to take up flood moderation, relief and rehabilitation exercises in Bihar, which suffered a devastating deluge by the Kosi.

The package included a sum of Rs 5098 crore for desilting of rivers, Rs 3580 crore for inter-linking of river basins, Rs 2055 crore for reconstruction of rural roads, Rs 4200 crore for construction of houses that could withstand onslaught of deluge in districts ravaged by this year's flood and Rs 1843 crore for reconstruction of highways.

3. Linking of rivers will lead to industrial growth

Guntur (AP) (PTI): Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Water Resources R Sambasiva Rao on demanded implementation of the interlinking of rivers programme in the country.

Speaking at the inauguration of Kodanda Ram Lift Irrigation Scheme at Dharanikota village in Guntur, Rao said, the programme will boost agriculture production, create employment, generate power and a give a fillip to industrial growth.

By transferring excess water the programme averts floods in some rivers and mitigate drought caused for want of irrigation facilities in other areas, he said.

Rao said the Standing Committee has identified five links for priority consideration. They are Godavari-Krishna, Ken-Betwa, Parbath-Kalisindh, Par-Tapi, Naramada and Daman-Ganga-Pinai.

4. Hooda advocates inter-basin transfer of river water

Chandigarh (PTI): Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda on Wednesday said that future of Water Management in the country including the ambitious project for inter-linking of all major rivers depends on inter-basin transfer of river waters without conflict.

The Chief Minister was addressing the North-Western Regional Workshop on Re-thinking Centre-State Relations in India organized by the Panjab University under the aegis of the Commission on Centre-State Relations here.

He urged the Central Government to adopt a pro-active stance on projects involving inter-basin transfer of river waters and suggested the execution of such projects by a central agency.

The second Ravi-Beas link purposed by Haryana State and included in the list of National Projects could come up early if taken up by a central agency, he added.

He said that Article 262 of the Constitution of India provides for adjudication of Inter-state water disputes by Tribunals and bars the jurisdiction of the Courts for this purpose.

5. Interlinking of rivers can rid Bihar of flood and drought: Bihar Minister

Patna: Bihar Water Resources Development Minister Bijendra Prasad Yadav on December 4, 2008 told the Legislative Council that inter-linking of rivers could rid the state of perennial problems of flood and drought.

Replying to a special debate on drought like situation prevailing in many districts of south Bihar, Yadav said "unless and until rivers are inter-linked the twin problems can not be solved."

Yadav said the inter-linking of Bihar rivers would cost more than Rs 4,000 crore.

6. Is linking of rivers a solution to depletion of water resources in Vellore district?

G.Viswanathan, Chancellor, Vellore Institute of Technology University (VITU), said that the district was now facing a dangerous situation where the existing water sources were fast depleting. The main reason was failure to conserve rainwater. No steps had been taken to carry floodwater to drought-hit areas. During the previous regime, the Union government had constituted a committee for inter-linking rivers. But, no headway was made, he regretted.
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