All ancient civilizations world over were born, bred, flourished and advanced by the river banks. Rivers are, therefore, an integral part not only of human existence but the very existence of life on our planet “The Earth“. Indian culture owes its supremacy to the rivers which are the life and blood of the nation. That is why they are worshiped as goddesses all over the country. Role of rivers in human life and now in national development, progress and prosperity, development of agriculture, science, technology or industry is beyond description. In olden days when there was no problem of overpopulation water resources provided by these rivers were sufficient for the population living by the banks. But with the ever increasing burden of population and multiplicity of demand for water for various purposes ranging from agricultural needs to industrial needs and for generation of power judicious utilization of this natural resource has become an absolute necessity.
India is a country with vast population with extremes of climate, different topography, varied types of soils, annual rainfall ranging from 5 cm to more than 1000 cm. some parts facing the havoc of floods and other parts thirsty for rain drops. Hence a scheme for effective and efficient management of water resources was prepared which envisages interlinking of 37 national rivers through 30 links across 9600 km with 32 connecting dams.
The apex court of India has issued a directive to the government of India to interlink these rivers within a period of 10 years. The government on its part has set up a task force under former power minister, Suresh Prabhu to build national consensus, work out detailed plans and to see that the entire work is completed by the year 2016.
The national water development agency (NWDA) has estimated that the project would cost Rs.5, 60,000 cores at 2002 prices. The project aims to deliver 173 billion cubic meter of water through a 12,500 km maze of canals which would irrigate 34 million hectares of land and would supply drinking water to 101 districts and five metro cities.
The NWDA has divided the project into parts:
The Himalayan part with 14 river links which is estimated to cost Rs. 3, 75, 000 core, and
The peninsular component with 16 river links to cost Rs. 1, 85, 000 cores.
The plan is aimed at ending the flood problems of the Gangs and Brahmaputra and at the same time solving the drought problem in southern India by diverting surplus water of the snow-fed rivers to the rain fed Peninsular river. These worlds bring an extra 35 million hectares under irrigation whereby per capita food grain consumption would be doubled in spite of the increase in population. This interlinking of rivers will provide food security to the country. Additional 34,000 k.w. electricity will be generated against the present 24,000 k.w. I.e. it will be more than doubled. This would give an impetus to the industrial sector as well.
River transports is not only cheaper but also a non-polluting transport alternative. This has been a success in Europe. Experts suggest that even canals can be used for moving cargo between the states. Interlinking of rivers will generate employment opportunities all over the country especially in agriculture sector, power, transport and construction works. This project alone can enhance the GPD by 4%. Above all migration from rural areas will reduce which would reduce congestion in urban areas. Decentralization of industries would be a natural phenomenon with the availability of water and power.
Undoubtedly, interlinking of rivers would provide innumerable facilities and comforts but certain hurdles are bound to arise in the implementation of the project. In the first instance many canals will pass through national parks and sanctuaries and many people may be displaced by the building of dams and canals. The construction of reservoirs and dams may swallow up the natural habitats of wild life and the ecology of the country may be subjected to unknown consequences. Large areas under forests may be submerged under water. According to some scientist’s monsoon rains come all over the country at one and the same time, hence interlinking rivers may cause floods. Then rivers like Ganga and Brahmaputra are international rivers, hence consent of adjacent countries like Nepal and Bangladesh would be a necessity for the completion of the completion of the project. Country is already facing a dispute over sharing of Kauveri river water. Further conflicts may arise between the states on the issue of sharing of water between them. Finally financing of the project will not be so easy.
In view of the director general of NWDA the interlinking of rivers should be based upon-
Inter-basin transfer is an outstanding example of effective and efficient management of water resources on the basis of need of the people;
Scientific studies dealing with water balances in various basins have already been conducted and it is believed that ecological and environmental problems shall not arise as all possible ameliorative and mitigation measures will be included in implementation of the project;
The problem of displacement, rehabilitation and resettlement of the people affected by the project should not pose a challenge because liberal and enlightened packages would be provided to them;
Scientific studies have been made in full details which incorporate relevant data of surveys and Investigations-Geological, Geophysical and Geo-electrical soil surveys of the command areas, suitable cropping patterns, crop rotation, socio and ecological impacts including a forestation;
Inter-state water agreements will hold good and after meeting the state’s demand only surplus water will be directed into other state territories. The donor state may also be compensated with hydro-power or development funds for the water they spare;
Finally it is believed that people’s participation and confidence is as important as the political consensus.