Interlinking of rivers is not a new concept as since centuries kings of various countries have tried to use canals to link rivers and combat floods and droughts effectively in their kingdoms. Some example from the history prove that interlinking rivers has been a successful at certain places whereas, it has failed at times too.
Bhojtal in Madhya Pradesh and Dholavira, a settlement off the coast of Gujarat, dating back to the Indus Valley civilization times are examples of successful water management through interlinking of rivers. The failed examples though teach us a valuable lesson that before undertaking such a huge project many points need to be considered else the failed project will results into many negative effects rather than give benefits to the people.
Points to be considered before undertaking such a huge project:
First of all let us check out the major points that need to be considered before undertaking such an ambitious project:
A research report was completed and submitted in 2013 about the feasibility of interlinking the rivers of India. The report also suggested how much investment will be required for the same and what will be the economic benefit derived from it.
If River Tapi is linked to River Narmada it will mean around 400 km in length can be linked which will mean that 93 MW more electricity will be generated, 91 MCM water for drinking and industrial purpose will be added and irrigation capacity will increase by 169,000 hectares.
As against these benefits the cost to link the two rivers as per the year 2003 estimate comes to Rs. 6,016 crore.
2. Environmental impact:
While undertaking the ambitious project of interlinking rivers the government will also have to consider the environmental impact of the project as while water is being channelised towards a particular region what if it causes waterlogging or salinisation of area.
3. Displacement of people:
Where to settle large number of people who will get displaced due to interlinking of rivers is a one issue that needs great consideration. Also this project will have impact on marine life and thereby make numerous fishermen jobless. The government will have to first figure out how to gainfully employe such fishermen.
4. International issues:
Most experts suggest that though initially the interlinking of rivers seems to be an arduous task in the long run it will benefit the country a lot. However, the problem is that there are no set rules that would help a country go for such a project that would definitely affect its neighbouring countries.
How to handle the issues raised at an international level will be very complicated and time consuming task.
5. Difference in political views:
Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the former prime minister of India had first suggested the idea of interlinking the rivers so that India can easily solve the problem of drought and flood as both affect the country in a huge way.
Former President APJ Abdul Kalam too supported the project of interlinking the rivers as he felt that if in India at a point in time one third population is either affected by flood or drought then why not interlink the rivers and ensure that people are free from both these issues forever. He strongly believed that India should take up the project on mission mode.
However, when United Progressive Alliance led by Congress formed government in 2004 it made sure that this mega project of linking 30 rivers died a slow death. Despite Supreme Court seeking response from the UPA government the progress made on it was way too slow.
Cons of interlinking the rivers:
As it is with any big measure that can be taken to ease problems of people, this solution of interlinking rivers to solve the problems of both floods and droughts has its cons which are listed below:
A.C. Kamaraj, member of the Expert Committee on Interlinking of Rivers, points out in his paper that the cost of flood damage during 2005-06 was estimated at Rs. 77,000 crore. Despite this many States are not in favour of the interlinking of rivers, as proposed by the National Water Development Agency, as they fear that their share of water will be taken away.
Balakrishna Gowda, Department of Forestry and Environmental Sciences, University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore, strikes a warning note with regards to interlinking of rivers when he says that the country could be heading towards disaster by contemplating such projects. "The vagaries of nature, such as drought, floods, have forced policymakers to take decisions that are not in tune with nature's law", he had said.
Mondal in 2004 had opined that the linking of rivers is more problematic for socio-economic-cultural relations of the society.
Many experts believe that interlinking of rivers will create environmental problems, ecological imbalance and reduce water table. Interlinking of rivers will cause huge amount of distortion in the existing environment. In order to create canals and reservoirs, there will be mass deforestation. This will have impact on rains and in turn affect the whole cycle of life is what they say.
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 interlinking of rivers, there will be decrease in the amount of fresh water entering seas and this will cause a serious threat to the marine life system and will be a major ecological disaster.
Due to the creation of Canals and Reservoirs, huge amount of area which is occupied by the people will be submerged leading to displacement of people and government will have to spend more to rehabilitate these people.
The amount required for these projects is so huge that government will have to take loans from the foreign sources which would increase the burden on the government and country will fall in a debt trap.
Other cons listed by experts are: problems with land requirement and acquisition, construction and maintenance of dams new canals and cross drainage structures, time frame, project cost escalations, etc.
Watch out this space for more on interlinking of rivers.