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World's largest and most disastrous project allocated budget

Written By mediavigil on Wednesday, February 02, 2022 | 12:46 AM

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman cited Chapter 72, Book 12 (Shanti Parva) of Mahabharata but she missed the wisdom of Chapter 183, Book 12 of Mahabharata that describes the Divine Being/Nature saying,"The oceans are his/her blood. The rivers are his/her arteries and veins."

The ILR project is contrary to India's commitment under United Nations Framework Convention on Climate and Change, Paris Agreement, Convention on Biological Diversity besides constitutional obligations under Article 48 -A of the Constitution of India which states that “the state shall endeavor to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wild life of the country”. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2019 special report on climate change and land, in total, land use is just behind electricity and heat production as the world’s second-largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. 

World's largest and most disastrous project of diversion of 39 rivers for interlinking is war against rivers. "The expected financial implication as far back as in 2002 was Rs.5,60,000 crores." The source of estimate was never disclosed. The National council of applied economic research (NCAER) study has revealed it to be a flawed estimate.

In the light of insight from Mahabharata, Union Budget 2022-23 is against rivers, which are veins and arteries of nature, according to Mahabharata. Diversion of rivers like Ken-Betwa, Damanganga-Pinjal, Par-Tapi- Narmada, Godavari-Krishna, Krishna-Pennar and Pennar-Cauvery as part of India's ILR project entails massive land use change, contributing to climate crisis irreversible loss of biodiversity. Interlinking of Rivers (ILR) project is anti-oceans and anti-rivers project.

Ken-Betwa is the first link out of 30 links of ILR project which will cost ₹44000 crores. In the 2022-23 budget 1400 crore has been allocated. When union govt realized opposition to national ILR project. Its Plan B is to disaggregate the plan and rope in States, to diffuse united  resistance.

The ILR  project was rejected in 1999 by National Commission on Integrated Water Resource Management. It was revived by Supreme Court in October 2002 while hearing a petitioner-less case by Chief Justice B. N. Kripal. The same Justice Kripal's observations were repeated by Justice Swatanter Kumar in February 2012.

The unjust verdict of Supreme Court in October 2002 and the one  dated February 27, 2012 in petitioner-less Writ Petition (Civil) No. 512 of 2002 by Justice Swatanter Kumar are based on a flawed assumption that there is consensus & unanimity among the states in the matter of ILR project. It is the most disastrous project for ever endorsed by any judge anywhere in the world.

Sometime back in response to my letter to the Union Minister of Water Resources on the subject of "Why several states remain opposed to rewriting of geography through interlinking of rivers", I got a response from Director (Technical), National Water Development Authority (NWDA), Union Ministry of Water Resources. NWDA attempted toe respond to some issues out of several issues I had raised although many of the questions have remained unanswered.

In response to NWDA’s submission about “consensus” among states and Court’s observation on “unanimity” among states on rewriting of geography through interlinking of rivers, I submitted the following:

1.      Contrary to NWDA’s submission, Para 29 of Supreme Court’s judgment records: “In the Par-Tapi-Narmada and Damanganga-Pinjal links, residents have shown concern about the extent of land to bes ubmerged on the construction of the proposed dam.” NWDA’s submission The consensus building amongst the States on river link projects is an ongoing process” does not appear to be valid. It does not stand the test of “consensus building” exercise. The use of the phrase consensus building” itself shows that there is going to be an effort tbuild something which does not pre-exist. The fact is that the whole exercise with regard to rewriting of geography through interlinking of rivers is based on the flawed assumption of “consensus” and “unanimity” although 18 States chose not respond to the notice of Supreme Court of India “despite the grant of repeated opportunities to do so".

2.      Consensus is defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary as, first, general agreement, and second, group solidarity of belief or sentiment. It has its origin in the Latin word cōnsēnsus (agreement), which is from cōnsentiō meaning literally feel together. According to Oxford Dictionary, Consensus means “A general agreement (of opinion, testimony etc)” and “collective opinion”.  The contention about “consensus building” is reminiscent of what Prof. Mason Cooley said about use of “vague language and shallow commitments” for achieving it.

At para 28, the Court’s order states: “even comprehensive clearances, from the Uttar Pradesh Government, have not been received.

The State of Rajasthan refuses to consider the MoU for another priority link, Parbati-Kalisindh-Chambal, until the updation of its hydrology project.” Hon’ble Court’s observations and ToR of the government’s Task Force and now its Special Committee constituted on 23.09.2014 reveal that consensus building efforts by government since December 2002 has failed. It also reveals that it Court was misled into assuming consensus and unanimity.

3.      There is no agreement between states for implementation of the projects, only an agreement for Detailed Project Report (DPR). More importantly, there is no consensus attempted or achieved with the affected people across the river basins, nor a consensus that this is a optimal, desirable or viable option. There is lack of implementation agreement in case of any of the three projects NWDA is claiming to have consensus for.

4.      For Ken Betwa, its EIA is shoddy and the public hearings involved violations. For Details see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/12/21/why-ken-betwa-eia-by-afcl-is-unacceptable/

and https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/12/20/violations-in-ken-betwa-riverlink-public-hearings-in-last-week-of-2014/

Not only that academicians and economists like Prof. Kanchan Chopra have also questioned the rationale of the Ken-Betwa link. Institutions like South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) have provided irrefutable critique of this link.

5.      For Par Tapi Narmada, the fact is that there is a strong opposition in Maharashtra. For Details: see:


and https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2015/04/30/par-tapi-narmada-link-divided-states-united-tribals/

The diversion of water to Gujarat Par Tapi Narmada link has created a political turmoil in Maharashtra. Notably, a special meeting was held between Maharashtra Water Resources Minister Girish Mahajan and MLAs from the Par, Nar, Ambika and Tapi regions, which include Baglan, Chanwad, Devala, Malegaon, Surgana-Kalvan etc to discuss strategy before interstate meeting between officials from Maharashtra and Gujarat on the interlinking projects in March 2015. It was urgently decided that the government will come up with a master plan for using waters of these rivers for Maharashtra itself rather than diverting it to Gujarat through the Par-Tapi Narmada link. In a meeting in Vadodara organized by the NWDA, there was an appeal to give immediate permission for the Par-Tapi Narmada Link project, but officials of the Tapi Irrigation Development Corporation from Maharashtra opposed this.

Locals have organized fasts and protests opposing this move, and the tremendous opposition to these plans in the affected regions and the proposed beneficiary region. 

6.      The fact is how can there be consensus and unanimity to undertake delinking of rivers from their basins. Sanity prevents emergence of dangerous consensus and unanimity for mutilating rivers from their basins.

7.      NWDA seems to suffer from a gross materialist and technocentric bias wherein water flow is deemed material flow alone and not the flow of life that sustains life. NWDA must appreciate the pearls of wisdom from Mahabharata that describes the Divine Being saying, “The mountains are his bones. The earth is his fat and flesh. The oceans are his blood. Space is his stomach. The Wind is his breath. Fire is his energy. The rivers are his arteries and veins. Agni and Soma, otherwise called the Sun and the Moon, are called his eyes. The firmament above is his head. The earth is his two feet. The cardinal and subsidiary points of the horizon are his arms,” the new government should reject the idea of “inter-linking of rivers based on feasibility”. This is narrated by Bhishma in conversation with Yudhishthira while referring to the reply of sage Bhrigu to sage Bharadwaja. This verse occurs in the Shanti Parva of Mahabharata. NWDA fails to recognize that Interlinking of rivers project is an exercise in delinking because it entails mutilation of the veins and arteries of the divine nature. Rivers shape the terrain and lives of people by its waters which are always in a dynamic state. Breaking this dynamic would unleash forces of uncontrolled change and invite the ‘law of unintended consequences’.

In response to NWDA’s submission “As regard to the environment and forest clearances these are being pursued for individual link Project vigorously and hoped that the same will become available”, we submitted the following:

1.      Given the fact that ILR project is a cumulative project, isn’t it logically compelling to undertake cumulative environment and forest impact assessment prior to seeking clearances?  The practice of seeking “environment and forest clearances” admittedly “for in dividuallink Project” shows deep insensitivity towards environment and forests. Thus, it is deeply flawed.

2.      NWDA appears to be pursuing the colonial legacy of viewing land, water and virtual water separately. It must review, revise and reverse its approach for conserving the very substratum of existence.

3.      It is noteworthy that National Bureau of Soil Survey and Land Use Planning and Indian Council of Agricultural Research note that about 146.82 million hectare area of country's total geographical area of 328.60 million hectares is hit by various kinds of soil erosion and land degradation. This is about 45 per cent of the country's total geographical area. This land degradation is due to soil erosion at an average rate of 16.4 tonnes per hectare per annum although the permissible limit (of erosion) is 10 tonnes per hectare per annum. Land degradation of about 9.48 million hectare happens by wind erosion.

4.      NWDA and other concerned planners and law makers are yet to take cognizance of the fact that about 93.68 million hectare soil of the total degraded area of 146.82 million hectare has eroded due to water.

This constitutes about 63 per cent of the total degraded area. About 16.03 million hectare land has been degraded by soil acidity and about 14.30 million hectare by water logging.

5.      NWDA must adopt river basin approach because it strikes a balance between the existing natural functions of the river system and societal expectations for livelihoods, industry, recreation, nature management, and agriculture. This approach maximizes the economic and social benefits derived from water resources in an equitable manner while conserving and, where necessary, restoring freshwater ecosystems. It factors in doctrine of riparian rights that emphasizes recognition of equal rights of water use by all owners of land subject to non-interference with rights of other riparian owners and the territorial integrity theory or theory of natural water flow wherein every lower riparian is entitled to natural flow of river without interference from upper riparian. It adopts the doctrine of community of interest implying that a river passed through states is deemed to be one unit and should be developed as such. The approach of seeking “environment and forest clearances” admittedly “for individual link Project” is quite parochial, dated and is caught in a time warp.

6.      NWDA cannot even attempt to defend the indefensible without the cumulative impact assessment of the ILR project. So far it has completely failed to do so. It is relevant to recall that a partial, unsuccessful and biased attempt was made to undertake cumulative impact of assessment of hydropower projects in Alaknanda and Bhagirathi Basins. For the ILR project, cumulative impacts must assess changes in sedimentation at various points within project, at various points within a day, season, year, over the years and cumulatively across the basin and impacts thereof. It should assess cumulative impact on aquatic and terrestrial flora and fauna across the basin due to ILR project. It should assess cumulative impact on hydrological flows, at various points within project, at various points within a day, season, year, over the years and cumulatively across the basin and impacts thereof. This should include impacts on various hydrological elements including springs, tributaries, groundwater aquifers, etc. This assessment must provide a picture of what is the situation before undertaking the ILR project and what would be the situation.  After the implementation of the project. It should account for cumulative green house gas emissions. It should assess the cumulative impact of mining of sand, boulders, coarse and fine granules etc required for the ILR project. It should assess the cumulative impact of blasting of so many tunnels. It should assess cumulative impact of improper and proper muck dumping into rivers. Its hould assess cumulative impact of silt laden water into the river channel downstream from the dam, and how this gets accumulated across the non monsoon months and what are its implications. It should assess cumulative impact of release of silt free water into the river downstream from the power house and impact thereof on the geomorphology, erosion, stability of structures etc. It should assess cumulative impact of differential water flow downstream from powerhouse in non monsoon months, with sudden release of heavy flows during peaking/ power generation hours and no releases during other times. It should assess cumulative impact of all the project components (dam, tunnels, blasting, power house, muck dumping, mining, road building, township building, deforestation, transmission lines, submergence etc) for the ILR project. This should be done for the periods during construction, operation and decommissioning phases of the projects.

As to NWDA’s submission regarding the formation of special committee and task force, the fact is that there has been no transparency and credible participation. I wish to know on what basis and how the earlier expert committee was dissolved, even without informing the members.

NWDA’s contention “the ILR projects are green projects and these link projects under ILR Programme have been formulated by exercising all caution and considering all engineering parameters required for the project” ignores the glaring fact of South Asia’s biggest ecological crisis due to construction of embankments in Kosi basin in Bihar and Nepal. These misplaced engineering interventions have created unprecedented drainage congestion crisis even as NWDA and its sister organizations keep claiming that it was “formulated by exercising all caution and considering all engineering parameters required for the project.” NWDA’S contention ignores the lessons from the drying up of Aral Sea, the world biggest ecological catastrophe because of diversion of Siberian rivers in former USSR.

We submit that some 60 years ago Aral Sea basin was a richly forested eco-system fed by two of the longest rivers in Asia. It stretched 266 miles from its northern port, Aral'sk, to the port on its southern delta, Muynak. The lake was fed in the north by the Syr-Dar'ya River, flowing from its headwaters in Kyrgyzstan through Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, then north through Kazakhstan into the lake. The Amu-Dar'ya River begins near Khyber Pass in Afghanistan, flowing along the border between Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan before forming a delta at the southern end of the Aral Sea. After the collapse of USSR, Kazakhstan borders the Aral Sea in the north, while Uzbekistan lies on the south shore. After the collapse USSR, scientists discovered that the Aral Sea was missing. At present the Aral Sea has lost three-fourths of its former volume and two-thirds of its former surface area. The water level has dropped by almost seventy feet, and the salinity of the lake is triple the level of forty years ago. The former sea has split into two parts with a diminishing trickle of water between them. There are projections about its complete disappearance in near future.

We submit that quite like the proposed ILR project, Soviet government had launched a massive irrigation project. In 1ate 1930s when it was decided to drain the rivers of the Aral basin to irrigate wide expanses of desert disregarding the advice and prediction of Soviet scientists about its adverse consequences for the Aral Sea and its ecosystem if the Amu-Dar'ya and Syr-Dar'ya were exploited as planned, but their advice was ignored. As a result, water from the two rivers stopped reaching the sea much of the time, and not at all in dry years. The Amu-Dar'ya stopped reaching the sea due to drought, and water from the Syr-Dar'ya did not reach the sea during the summer when needed for irrigation, coming instead in the winter and causing floods, exacerbating the ecological situation. The sea began drying up within years after introduction of the plan, but the USSR government argued that "the disappearance of the sea would be good, because then more cotton fields could be planted on the seabed." The desertification of the Aral Sea was not a natural process; it was deliberate process akin to the proposed ILR project.

We wish to point out what Shri Mikhail Gorbachev, formerly President of the USSR said in this regard. He said, “After the extent of the Aral Sea tragedy became known, we stabilized the unsustainable irrigation schemes which were cutting off the water supply to the Aral Sea, and halted a project which had been planned by engineers to divert two major Siberian rivers.” He added, “The most important lesson is that the developments in science and technology of the past century bring with them not only huge benefits, but also great responsibility, as human mistakes or mismanagement can now cause irreversible damage to the environment, immeasurable human suffering and threaten the very habitability of large parts of our precious planet.”

NWDA’s claim, “The ILR projects will provide boost in every sphere of life including job creation, greenery, tourism and ultimately helps in food production and thus increase food security of the nation” is an exercise in empty posturing. It does not provide any figures for such claims. It does not disclose the quantum of agricultural land that will be submerged and how much of such land will be put to non-agricultural purposes while making unsubstantiated claims about “food production” and “food security”. Unless NWDA provides figures for how food production will suffer and impact food security due to submergence and diversion of agricultural land such claims are manifestly misleading.

We submit that the proposed Interlinking of Rivers (ILR) project will kill the rivers and their basins. It will destroy groundwater recharge system. The fact is that surface water projects are not delivering, they only seem to involve scandals.

We wish to draw your attention towards a book ‘Free the CBI’ by Late Shri B R Lall, former Joint Director, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) wherein there is a reference author’s letter to Shri K VijayaRama Rao, the then Director, CBI in August 1995. In this letter he mentions that he strove for complete investigation into the power sector, which is draining the country. In the book it is mentioned that kickbacks may be 3 to 10 % of the project cost, but up-valuation is anything between 40 to 100 % of the real project cost. He had sent a report on Chamera project to Director, CBI where against an estimated cost of Rs 1393 crores in 1992, the negotiations for allotment are on for Rs 3300 to 3600 crores i.e.@ Rs 12 crores per MW whereas world over rate of only around Rs 6 crores per MW is considered reasonable for hydro electric projects. In the letter it is reasoned that even if this figure were to be Rs 2000 crores for 300 MW Chamera project, shouldn’t it be examined when Rs 1000 to 1500 crore of the nation is being squandered for kickbacks of Rs 100 crore. The Director CBI never permitted this probe.

We demand a high level probe in the hydro power sector before pursuing the ILR project which entails such projects as well.

We submit that as per the Planning Commission’s Tenth Plan document, there are 383 ongoing major and medium projects awaiting completion, 111 of which are pending since pre-fifth Plan period i.e. more than 26 years. All these can be completed within five to eight years, yielding an additional potential of about 14 million hectares at a cost of Rs 77,000crore as estimated by the plan task force, now raised to Rs 100,000 crore. 

The second component listed in the Plan is development of minor irrigation, mostly in the eastern and northeastern regions. The total potential assessed is 24.5 million hectares with a total investment of Rs 54,000 crore, of which the government is expected to provide only Rs 13,500 crore, the balance coming from beneficiary farmers and institutional loans. The cost per hectare is only Rs 20,000 and gestation period almost nil, against a cost of Rs 100,00
0 and 12 
years' gestation in case of major and medium projects.

The third equally beneficial scheme mentioned in the Plan is the groundwater recharge master plan prepared by the Central Ground Water Board needing Rs 24,500 crore to trap 36 billion cubic metres of water annually.

We submit that these measures are quite clearly better than the project of networking of rivers. The concerned judges would serve the ecological interest of the subcontinent better if they could pay heed to these proposals of the Plan document. Judges at all levels have, by and large, justified the confidence reposed in them. But there is scope for improvement in several spheres and it is up to the judiciary itself to rectify the defects in its role and prove to the public that as long as there is an efficient, impartial, independent and incorruptible judiciary, democracy in India will be safe from the tyranny of the executive and also the judiciary.

We submit that the proposal of networking Peninsular and Himalayan rivers emerges from a lack of rigorous evaluation of the ecological impacts which would prove disastrous not only to the fishery, but also to the biodiversity and biotic processes that have evolved over the past hundred of millions of years.

We must remember if water scarcity is the perennial question, there better answers like the groundwater recharge master plan available with the government. Water can be made to “Reach to All Homes, Farms and Factories” by adopting this plan as well at a minimal cost.

It submitted that whenever there is conflict between financial gains and rivers, the latter must get priority over monetary benefits because by any yard stick economic value of a free flowing river is bigger than dammed and mutilated rivers.  The capitalist, communist and colonial legacy of treating rivers as material flow that flow through pipelines must be abandoned and rivers must be treated as living beings that nourished our civilization for centuries and can nourish all the coming generations if cannibalistic tendency of diverting waters in bottles, dams and banks is stopped.

We submit that NWDA is under structural compulsion to push these ecologically destructive projects envisaged in 1970s to justify their continued existence. NCAER, NWDA and their promoters remain trapped in pre-climate crisis era wherein “taming of rivers”, dams were temples and not outcome of disease of gigantism and conquest over nature was considered part of scientific temper with which rivers could be murdered with impunity.

We submit that in 1715 India accounted for 25 % of world industrial output. India’s share in the world’s industrial output became possible without engineering the landscape and replumbing the river valleys of the sub continent which is already demonstrably earth quake prone.

In view of the recent earth quakes, unpredictable rainfall andchanging weather pattern, our submission dated 10th June, 2015 and the above submissions, we are under logical compulsion to reiterate that for the sake of sanity and humanity, Interlinking of Rivers project should be abandoned.


Gopal Krishna


The author is an environmental lawyer who has been working on the subject of diversion of rivers project (officially called Interlinking of Rivers project) since 2002.


Response of NWDA


With reference to your email on the subject cited above as regards to the Judgement given by the Hon’ble Supreme Court on writ petition (Civil) No.512 of 2002 “In RE: Networking of Rivers”, it is to statet hat the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation has constituted the Special Committee vide Gazette notification dated 23.09.2014. The Special Committee for Interlinking of Rivers is taking decision as appropriate.

The consensus building amongst the States on river link projects is an ongoing process. At present consensus have been reached on three links i.e. Ken-Betwa link Project, Damanganga-Pinjal link Project and Par-Tapi-Narmada link Project.

As regard to the environment and forest clearances these are being pursued for individual link Project vigorously and hoped that the same will become available.

With regard to the issue of cost of resettlement of displaced people due to ILR project it is to state that while preparing Detailed Project Report (DPR) these issues are considered in details and adequate provisions are being kept.

With regard to abandon the Interlinking of River project for the sake of sanity and humanity, it is imperative to mention here that the ILR projects are green projects and these link projects under ILR Programme have been formulated by exercising all caution and considering all engineering parameters required for the project. The ILR projects will provide boost in every sphere of life including job creation, greenery, tourism and ultimately helps in food production and thus increase food security of the nation.

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