While experts are still questioning the environmental and financial viability of river-linking projects, parliamentarians, it seems, are convinced that connecting rivers is the main solution to India’s recurring flood and drought problems.
Several MPs in the Rajya Sabha, from across the political spectrum, on Thursday urged the government to implement the river interlinking project, while discussing the flood situation in Assam and elsewhere.
“I would like to suggest that the government think of linking the rivers… It can take up this issue with chief ministers of the states. If Godavari and Krishna could be linked in Andhra Pradesh, why can’t the other rivers be linked? I appeal to you to hold a meeting with all the chief ministers, discuss the inter-linking of river waters, so that we can effectively mitigate the impact of climate change in our country,” D Raja of CPI said.
Prasanna Acharya had made the same point a bit earlier. “During Vajpayee’s government, a good step was initiated — inter-linking of rivers. I don’t know why the UPA government did not continue with it. I would like to ask the minister and the government whether they are thinking of reviving the inter-linking of rivers programme,” he said.
Speaker after speaker after that echoed this demand.“The UPA government had been planning this for a number of years. They had even prepared a blueprint. But it takes time to implement such things… Connecting rivers require huge funds. So, my suggestion is, you must take the World Bank aid and also the Asian Development Bank aid for it and work it out in a big way, in a phased manner. It may take 10 years or 15 years. But if you connect rivers in a phased manner, it is going to be a permanent solution for the people of India,” Subbirami Reddy of the Congress said.
Vijila Sathyananth of AIADMK said the Tamil Nadu government had been seeking inter-linking of rivers for several years. “The main long-term solution would be to ensure optimal and equitable sharing of water resources in the country, which is, inter-linking of rivers. Would the government be looking into this?” she asked.
Tiruchi Siva of DMK said the river interlinking project is raised in Parliament every year but the government was not acting fast enough. “Until and unless it is done, this situation in the country will never come to an end. When one part is with surplus water, the other part is suffering for lack of water, then why don’t you link the rivers?” he asked.
The government has been examining the prospect of interlinking of rivers since the 1980s, and has already identified 30 possible linkages across the country. A detailed project report has been prepared in many of these. However, till now only one of these projects, the Ken-Betwa link in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh has received Cabinet approval, but even that is hurtling from one obstruction to the other.
After a lot of difficulty, the Ken-Betwa link project received environmental, forest and wildlife clearances earlier this year, but now Madhya Pradesh state government has raised some objections, bringing a fresh cloud of uncertainty over the project.
Meanwhile, environmentalists and water experts have been warning of adverse consequences of river interlinking project. Last year, even a committee appointed by the Water Resources Ministry, to suggest structural and institutional reforms in water management, had argued against interlinking, raising questions on a number of grounds including its cost effectiveness.