Against the odds, Centre forging ahead with ambitious river-interlinking project

Business Line

MAY. 01, 2019


Will the interlinking of rivers mitigate drought and the effects of floods?

Yes, says the Centre. Notwithstanding the debates on the merits and demerits of the plan, the Ministry of Water Resources wants to take forward the interlinking of rivers.

“Interlinking of rivers can play a major role in water management in the country,” the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation told the Rajya Sabha in February. “The National Perspective Plan (NPP) for transferring water from water-surplus basins to water-deficit basins was prepared in August 1980.”

The Ministry added that the link projects under the NPP are designed to minimise water going to sea unutilised, and to mitigate the “effects of floods and droughts to some extent”.

Long-term plan

Many regions face severe drought routinely, and the States and the Centre try to tackle the situation with emergency plans. It seems that the only concrete long-term plan in place is that of interlinking of rivers.

The NPP is envisaged to give the benefits of 25 million ha of irrigation from surface waters and 10 million ha by increased use of ground waters, raising the ultimate irrigation potential from 140 million ha to 175 million ha. It is also seen to lead to the generation of 34 million KW of power, apart from the incidental benefits of flood control, drought mitigation, etc.

Under the NPP, the National Water Development Agency has identified 30 links (16 under the Peninsular Component and 14 under the Himalayan Component) for the preparation of feasibility reports (FRs). The government has identified four priority links for the preparation of detailed project reports (DPR) under the Peninsular Component: the Ken-Betwa link project (UP and M.P.), the Damanganga-Pinjal link project (Maharashtra and Gujarat), the Par-Tapi-Narmada link project (Maharashtra and Gujarat) and the Godavari-Cauvery link project (AP and TN). Ministry data show that DPRs are ready for the first three projects, while FRs are ready for 13 links.

Under the Himalayan Component of the NPP, the Yamuna-Rajasthan link has been proposed; it is an extension of the Sarda-Yamuna link canal proposed to originate from Nepal. The link is planned to take off from a barrage across the Yamuna.

Serious crisis

The Mihir Shah Committee report titled ‘A 21st Century Institutional Architecture for India’s Water Reforms’ observes that many of India’s peninsular rivers are facing a serious crisis of post-monsoon flows.

“The single most important factor explaining the drying up of India’s peninsular rivers is the over-extraction of groundwater. The drying up of base-flows of groundwater has converted so many of our ‘gaining’ rivers into ‘losing’ rivers,” the report adds.