Annually, India as a whole receives 117 cm of rainfall, but it is not distributed uniformly. While some regions face floods, the other areas reel under drought spells. Thus, it was believed that if an arrangement could be made via which water from surplus areas could be transferred to deficit areas, India could gain on both ends.
This is where the idea of interlinking the rivers comes into picture. It was first suggested by British Engineer Sir Arthur Cotton when he sought to link the rivers Ganga and Cauvery to aid navigation. Later, in 1982, National Water Development Agency (NWDA) researched over the issue with regard to 30 rivers.
Under former PM, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, it was planned to connect 14 Himalayan and 16 Peninsular rivers by means of canals and reservoirs, in order to ensure water security for irrigation and energy security via hydroelectric power (HEP) projects.
A task force was formed on the directions of Supreme Court in 2002 which submitted an action plan to submit detailed reports by 2006.
In 2005, the Union Government and states of UP and MP signed an MoU in order to link River Ken with the river Betwa. The project is estimated to cost 10,000 crore INR and is expected to be completed within a decade, if all goes well.
Challenges to the project
- Environmental conservation
The project, if implemented, will end up submerging 10% of the Panna Tiger Reserve in MP which is known for its tiger population and thriving wildlife. Other environmental concerns include loss of connectivity, fragmentation and threat to Critical Tiger Habitat of the reserve forest. Also, the project may adversely impact Ken Ghariyal Sanctuary as one of the barrages will be constructed inside it.
The estimated cost of the project is already pegged at 10,000 crore INR. If the usual delays are taken into account, then it may reach well beyond these estimates. The project may eventually become unfeasible owing to this.
- Monsoonal links
Scientists believe that the policy of interlinking rivers would end up modifying the monsoonal pattern of the country. Going by the heavy dependency over rainfall in our agricultural sector, this may open a new front to fight upon.
- Experiences elsewhere
Empirical studies have converged on the conclusion that such projects often lead to more problems, than solving some. They end up damaging the delicate ecosystem balance, while simultaneously draining public treasury.
- Sharing of expenditure
As per NITI Ayog, the project costs need to be shared between MP government and the central government in the ratio of 40 : 60. However, the Union Ministry of Water Resources, feels that it should be rather 10 : 90, i.e. 90% should come from the Centre.
The project is expected to provide irrigation to the drought-prone Bundelkhand region spread across UP and MP. Nearly, 3.5 lakh hectares and 14000 hectares of area in MP and UP respectively, will benefit from the regular supply of water for irrigational and other purposes.
In 2012, after hearing all sides, the Supreme Court gave green nod to the project and hoped for its speedy implementation.
Recently, the project has got all the necessary clearances from environment and tribal affairs ministries paving its way towards its implementation.
Thus, it would be desirable to devise clarity on the funding procedure between NITI Ayog and MoWR, so as to not delay the project any further.