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Inter Linking of Rivers: How to kill rivers, the Gujarat way

Written By Unknown on Monday, April 14, 2014 | 2:06 AM

Having worked on linking Gujarat’s rivers, of course, sans any concern for socio-ecological impacts of such mega projects, state chief minister and BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate is now promising a revival of the controversial Inter Linking of Rivers project at the national level.

After having contributed to one of South Asia’s two biggest planned disasters through Sardar Sarovar Dam which can never be justified if cost-benefit ratio in economic terms and environmental and human cost is taken into account, a totally indefensible and megalomaniac project to link all the major rivers of India has been promised by BJP.

BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate is arguing that “In Gujarat, we have inter-linked 20 rivers and the agriculture growth is 10 per cent.” This claim seems to be misleading because government’s statistics reveals that agriculture in Gujarat is largely dependent on ground water for irrigation. As to the adverse consequences of linking of 20 rivers in Gujarat, there is an urgent need for independent teams to examine it.  If there is truth in Narendra Modi’s claims the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) reports of these link projects in Gujarat should be put in public domain for public scrutiny. South Asia’s other disaster being drainage congestion crisis in Kosi basin. Modi has suggested the same medicine of linking rivers for the victims of development of Kosi region as well.

In their bid to outwit the resistance to such projects the proponents have a Plan A and a Plan B. The state’s proposal and projects are part of Plan B and Plan A is the national interlinking of rivers (ILR) programme. The ILR programme is estimated at an aggregated cost of Rs 1, 25, 342 crore at 2002-3 prices. It is aimed at creating additional storage facilities and transfer water from water-surplus regions to more drought-prone areas through inter-basin transfers. It is claimed that it will provide additional irrigation in about 30 million hectares and net power generation capacity of about 20,000 to 25,000 MW. 

These claims have been debunked by several experts who have examined its self contradictory claims and environmental costs. The interlinking of rivers is a misnomer. It is actually an exercise aimed at diversion of rivers from their centuries old courses.  This project is caught in time warp. It is an outdated project that belongs to an era when climate crisis was not a reality. This entails unprecedented amount of land use change and massive rupture of ground water aquifers.  This program proceeds in a colonial framework which deemed flow of rivers being akin to flow of water in the pipelines.

It is noteworthy that National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) did a study on “Economic Impact of Interlinking of Rivers Programme” in April 2008. The Foreword to the study admits, “Economic impact of certain benefits such as mitigation of drought and floods to a certain extent, increased revenue/income from fishing, picnic site and amusement park are not taken into consideration.” It is clear from the NCAER report itself that livelihood aspects have not been considered by the project proponents.  

As to mitigation of flood and drought to a certain extent, fishing at dams and reservoirs, they are mentioned in passing as “fringe benefit” of the programme. Thus, all claims of drought proofing, flood proofing and dilution of pollution through linking rivers as is being argued by its proponent’s of ILR programme are insincere, an exercise in sophistry and totally misplaced. 

This is the study on the basis of which claims are made that the ILR project is viable. The fact is that the premise that the ILR project would lead to drought proofing and flood proofing of the country is based on the assumption that there is consensus among the states for this project. It has been found that both these premises do not exist.    

The study feigned ignorance about the relevant recommendations of the two volume report of the National Commission for Water Resource Development set up by the Union Ministry of Water Resources that was submitted in September, 1999. Volume-I of 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." The report underlines that the problems are in the entire plan of linking the Himalayan rivers.

With regard to the Peninsular river component, the National Commission for Integrated Water Resources Development states, "there is no imperative necessity for massive water transfer. The assessed needs of the basins could be met from full development and efficient utilisation of intra-basic resources except in the case of Cauvery and Vaigai basins. Some water transfer from Godavari towards the south should take care of the deficit in the Cauvery and Vaigai basins."

Unmindful of the above recommendations of the High Powered Commission headed by Prof S R Hashim, Feasibility Studies of the links in the Peninsular Component of the Interlinking of Rivers project has already been prepared by National Water Development Agency (NWDA), Government of India. These links include:  1. Krishna (Almatti) Pennar Link, 2. Inchampalli Nagarjunasagar Link, 3. Inchampalli Pulichintala Link, 4. Ken Betwa Link Project, 5. Nagarjunasagar Somasila Link, 6. Parbati Kalisindh Chambal Link Project, 7. Srisailam Pennar Link, 8. Cauvery Vaigai Gundar Link, 9. Damanganga Pinjal Link, 10. Mahanadi Godavari Link Project, 11. Pamba Achankovil Vaippar Link, 12. Par Tapi Narmada Link, 13. Pennar Palar Cauvery Link and 14. Polavaram Vijayawada Link. The map of the peninsular component is attached.

As to Himalayan Component, NWDA has completed the pre-feasibility studies of fourteen links in the Himalayan component. These include: 1. Manas-Sankosh-Tista – Ganga (MSTG) link, 2. Jogighopa-Tista-Farakka link, 3. Ganga-Damodar-Subernarekha link, 4. Subernarekha-Mahanadi link, 5. Farakka-Sunderbans link, 6. Gandak-Ganga link, 7. Ghaghara -Yamuna link, 8. Sarda-Yamuna link, 9. Yamuna-Rajasthan link, 10. Rajasthan-Sabarmati link, 11. Chunar- Sone Barrage link, 12. Sone dam-Southern tributaries of Ganga link, 13. Kosi- Ghaghara link and 14. Kosi-Mechi link. The feasibility Studies of Ghaghara-Yamuna Link and Sarda-Yamuna Link has been prepared. 


Besides the above, Union Ministry of Water Resources has approved to identify Intra-State links in the States like Bihar and to prepare pre – feasibility / feasibility reports of these links by NWDA. The Government of Puducherry has send a proposal for one interstate link namely Pennaiyar – Sankarabarani link instead of intra state link proposal. The States Governments of Bihar, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Orissa, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Tamil Nadu have proposed intra-state proposals within their respective states. NWDA is preparing the pre – feasibility reports of the intra state links.

 In Bihar, the proposed links include: 1. Kosi – Mechi, 2. Barh – Nawada, 3. Kohra – Chandravat (Lalbegi), 4. Burhi Gandak – None – Baya – Ganga Burhi Gandak 5.  Bagmati [Belwadhar]and 6. Kosi – Ganga. The pre-feasibility report of Kosi – Mechi, Kohra – Chandravat (Lalbegi) and Burhi Gandak – None – Baya – Ganga has been completed and sent to the state government. It shows that centre and the state government refuse to learn from the embankment disaster and drainage crisis in the Kosi basin.  Notably, Modi promised the false solution of ILR to deal with the situation during a recent rally in Bihar.  

In Rajasthan, there are two links proposed namely, Mahi – Luni link and Wakal – Sabarmati – Sei – West Banas – Kameri link. Is it irrational to suggest that centre and state government should learn its lessons from the flash floods of August 2006 in the usually drought prone Barmer district and desist from such endeavors?

In Jharkhand, the links include South Koel – Subernarekha, Sankh – South Koel and  Barkar – Damodar – Subernarekha. Their pre-feasibility report has been completed and sent to the state government. The centre and the state government have chosen to discard the lessons from the failure of the hydro projects in the Damodar valley. In Tamil Nadu, there is a proposal for Pennaiyar – Palar link.

In Maharashtra, there 15 links which include 1. Wainganga (Goshikurd) – Nalganga (Purna Tapi) [Wainganga – Western Vidarbha & Pranhita – Wardha links merged and extended through Kanhan – Wardha link], 2. Wainganga – Manjra Valley, 3. Upper Krishna – Bhima (system of Six links). 4. Upper Ghat – Godavari Valley, 5. Upper Vaitarna – Godavari Valley, 6. North Konkan – Godavari Valley, 7. Koyna – Mumbai city, 8. Sriram Sagar Project (Godavari) – Purna – Manjira, 9. Wainganga (Goshikurd) – Godavari (SRSP). 10. Middle Konkan – Bhima Valley, 11. Koyna – Nira, 12. Mulsi – Bhima, 13. Savithri – Bhima, 14. Kolhapur – Sangli – Sangola and 15. Riverlinking projects of Tapi basin and Jalgaon District. Clearly, centre and Maharashtra government has not learnt its lessons from disrupting Mithi river in Mumbai. 

In Gujarat, the proposal of Damanganga – Sabarmati – Chorwad link is facing people’s resistance. Will Nareendra Modi pay heed?  

In Odisha, the links included Mahanadi – Brahmani but its prefeasibility study concluded that it was not techno economically feasible. Other links in the state include Mahanadi – Rushikulya (Barmul Project) and Vamsadhara – Rushikulya (Nandini Nalla project).

The tripartite Memorandum of Understranding (MoU) amongst the Union Government, the State of Gujarat and the State of Maharashtra for preparation of the Detailed Project Reports (DPRs) of Damanganga – Pinjal Link Project and Par – Tapi – Narmada Link Project was signed by the Union Minister for Water Resources, the Chief Minister of Gujarat and the Chief Minister of Maharashtra on May 3, 2010 in the presence of the Prime Minister. It was claimed that the agreement for these two links is meant for providing benefits to the people of the areas at the earliest. 

The proposed Par – Tapi – Narmada and Damanganga – Pinjal links are two Inter Basin Water Transfer links concerning Gujarat & Maharashtra. While Par – Tapi – Narmada link is for claimed benefits in Gujarat State, Damanganga – Pinjal link is expected to benefit Maharashtra State according to the project proponents. 

The origin of these projects can be traced to a study by Government of Gujarat in 1973 that contained a proposal to inter-link the rivers of the state and the “National Perspective for Water Resource Development -Master plan of Gujarat for utilisation of surplus water of west flowing rivers south of Tapi” of 1981. The proposal envisaged a link canal interconnecting the Damanganga, the Tapi and Narmada rivers. Those were times when Barmer like incident had not happened and climate science was not adequately developed.

In order to comprehend the claims of rivers being “surplus” take the case of Ganga which is deemed as a "surplus" 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. The latter rivers’ flow during monsoon flood is at the average rate of 50,000 cumecs. This will create an ever present disaster. If the 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. This is the landscape in which water from so called “surplus” rivers is to be transferred to so-called deficit rivers.

The Par – Tapi – Narmada link envisages the transfer of surplus water from west flowing rivers north of Damanganga upto Tapi to water deficit areas in North Gujarat. The scheme is located mainly in southern Gujarat; but it also covers part of the areas, north of Mumbai on the Western Ghats in Maharashtra.

Damanganga – Pinjal link envisages the transfer of surplus water of Damanganga basin available at the proposed Bhugad and Khargihill dam sites to Pinjal reservoir for augmentation of water supply to Greater Mumbai city. All the three reservoirs will be connected through tunnels i. e. Bhugad – Khargihill (length 16.85 Km) and Khargihill – Pinjal (length 25.70 Km) for the transfer of about 909 Million cubic meter of water annually. 

The unintended consequences of fiddling with river’s ecosystem have not been factored in. In the case of Gujarat’s Par – Tapi – Narmada link project consists of 7 proposed reservoirs on these rivers and a 395 km long link canal. This link would submerge tribal lands and forests in south Gujarat. These proposed reservoirs include Jheri, Mohankavchali & Paikhed on Par River, Chasmandva on Auranga River, Chikkar and Dabdar on Ambica River and Kelwan on Purna river and a 401 km long link canal connecting these reservoirs. Four of these reservoirs namely, Jheri, Mohankavchali, Paikhed and Chasmandva will submerge territory and property in Maharashtra.  Jheri reservoir is completely in Maharashtra whereas other three reservoirs submerge the areas in both the states of Gujarat and Maharashtra. The MoU does not reveal as to whether people of Maharashtra would agree to submergence.

There is strong people’s opposition to the link since 1990s. The resistance opposition has been officially noted. The project proponents claim that the reservoirs envisaged as part of the river link project will provide flood relief to the people residing in downstream areas. These claims are not verifiable because information about existing floods, flood damages and the impact of the project on floods has not been factored in.

Since the days of Indira Gandhi efforts have been made by some lobbies to undertake these link proposals as part of inter basin and intra basin transfer of water mentioned in the national water policy. 

It is abundantly clear that short-term and long-term impact of such failed ideas has not been taken into account. People’s movements and environmental groups in India in particular and South Asia in general are opposed to this project because it will lead to Aral Sea like ecological disaster and will endanger the life of rivers for good. It is a case of refusing to learn from the diversion of two Siberian rivers led to drying up of Aral Sea. Will Modi consider paying a visit to Aral Sea to witness the outcome of his promise? Has the far reaching implications of the project on relations with neighboring countries in the Himalayan region been factored in?

MP CM too is on the prowl  
In a highly controversial act, the so-called river-linking project that claims to solve the problem of water scarcity in Malwa region as part of the Narmada-Kshipra link project has been completed and inaugurated without Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) and Environmental Clearance. Narmada's water has been lifted to 350 metres and through pipelines spread over almost 49 kilometres to Kshipra river in Ujjain, about 15 kilometres from Indore. The first phase of the project has been completed in 14 months. It was inaugurated by L K Advani in February 2014. Modi’s absence from the program and its advertisements was quite conspicuous. The project has three more phases which will connect river Ganga to three rivers - Gambhir, Kalisindh, Parvati. Malwa region. Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan claims, "When all phases of the project are complete 3,000 villages, 72 towns will get drinking water and water to irrigate 16 lakh acres of land." 

It has been claimed that the project will provide drinking water to Dewas and Ujjain cities, over 250 villages along Kshipra river, supply water to Ujjain, Dewas and Pithampur and also recharge groundwater.
But 25% of the 362 MLD water to be pumped under this scheme is going to be transferred to Pitampur industrial area in Malwa under an agreements that has already been signed with Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor. This is revealed in an elaborate note titled “Hype vs Reality of Narmada Kshipra Pipeline Project” published by South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People. This leaves the question- Who will get how much water-unanswered. This information is not in public domain.

This pipeline project involves pumping through 47 km long pipes that would raise the elevation of water by about 348 m from Sisliya (228 m) to Ujjaini (576 m) through pipelines of 1.8 m diameter. This involves use of at least 27.5 MW of power. The power bill of this project would be Rs 118.92 crores per year.  

Notably, about 4 lakh liters of polluted water is entering the Kshipra river from Dewas city and industries, affecting villages of Ujjain, Dewas and Indore and Hirli dam and even groundwater. The pumping of pipeline water into the polluted Kshipra water will generate more quantity of polluted water. 

Interestingly, Kshipra river is part of Ganga basin under the ILR programme is a so-called surplus basin and Narmada is a so called deficit basin, which is supposed to get water from Gujarat’s Par and Tapi rivers.  It is evident that there an unbridgeable gulf of communication between Modi, Chouhan and Advani. The MP project by default reveals that the assumptions about ‘surplus’ and deficit which is the basis of ILR project is totally flawed. 

Two Questions
Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal recently asked Narendra Modi some questions. Two of them pertain to Gujarat’s river water management and agricultural growth.
1.       1. You claim that agriculture growth rate in Gujarat is 11%, but by your own government's estimates in 2006-2007 agricultural production in the state was Rs. 27,815 crore. In 2012-2013, agricultural production fell to Rs. 25,908 crore. This means agricultural production has fallen in Gujarat during your tenure and the annual agricultural growth rate is -1.18%. How do you then claim agriculture growth rate is 11%?
2.     2.  The height of Narmada Dam was raised in 2005 to provide water to the people of Kutch for drinking and farming. But, even eight years later, the people of Kutch have not got water. This water was given to some of your favourite industrialists. Why this discrimination against the people of Kutch?

Gopal Krishna

This article has been published in ECO magazine from page no. 36 to 39 at
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