India is a country where a lot depends upon the moods of monsoons. This is truer in for the agriculture sector. A large part of the arable land in India is rain fed. If monsoon fails the budget goes haywire. There are a lot of plans which try to decrease this dependency on monsoon. One such project is river water linking or National Water Grid. Lot of talks has been going about this project. Many view that the linking of water-surplus of Himalayan Rivers will solve the water-scarcity of India.
A task force was set up most of whose current members are advocates of large-scale technologies to harness water and power.
Inter-basin transfer of water is quite common. It has been done in the US, Canada and China. Even within India, the Beas and Sutlej River have been linked and the Indira Gandhi Canal has brought water from the Sutlej (in Punjab) in the Bhakra canal to Rajasthan.
However, when the Soviet Union diverted rivers, it devastated the Aral Sea.
The positive aspect of this project is that it would increase irrigation and generate power to solve the country’s major problems. There was a time when India went with a begging bowl to seek food aid. The fact that India has a population which is growing by leaps and bounds and every year we have cores of new mouths to feed, nobody wants to go back to those days. This project of linking rivers could be the cornerstone of the dream of a developed and prosperous India.
But this project is not without its pitfalls. Arresting the natural flow of rivers on this gigantic scale could destroy the mangroves in the delta region of West Bengal and Bangladesh. Mangroves require the steady rise and fall of the sea level so that their roots can breathe. Once this process is disrupted, the richest fishing grounds in South Asia could become a part of history and folklore. Due to the disturbance of the delicate water balance of the area salinity would also make increase and in the process destroy thousands of hectares of arable land.
The disturbance in the economic balance of the area will also have to be accounted for. Planners will have to consider alternative employment opportunities and compensation plans of millions of fisher folk in the catchments area of the rivers.
Critics of rivers linking scheme advocate of increasing the productivity of exiting arable land rather than bringing new areas under cultivation. China produces as much 4.6 tones of cereal per hectare, while India produces only 2.1 tones. And that China has less arable land per head that India does.
Efficient use of exiting irrigational opportunities must also be considered. In India, due to the political clout exerted by rich farmers, irrigation- which accounts for 70 to 80 per cent of the total water consumed-is often wasteful, since there is no metering of usage and farmers simply flood their fields. The country could increase food availability by greater efficiency without increasing irrigation.
The neighboring countries which share the catchment area of the rivers like Bangladesh and Nepal will have to be consulted because due to the diversion of river these countries, along with China, would be affected by the project.
India has a large coastline and desalination of the sea water and using it for irrigation purposes is also one of the alternatives which must be seriously considered. A Bangalore company is providing desalinated water about Rs (US 9 cents) per liter, as against an international price of $1-$1.25 per kilolitre, which works out to be roughly similar. He said this could, in time, prove a boon to those living in coastal areas.
Summing up the setting up o a national water grid by linking the major rivers of India is a costly and huge project which has both positive and negative implications. This project which requires a huge political, economic and social discipline will also have a tremendous impact over the neighboring countries. Alternative schemes are also being discussed which seem promising at present but have to be extensively tested before they can appear as a viable solution.