China’s chairman is not our chairman

Before linking rivers, it has to be preceded by making them navigable for sea-going vessels

This is with reference to Mohan Guruswamy’s article China’s chairman is our chairman? (May 19) on interlinking of rivers in India. I plead to differ. Interlinking of Indian rivers is meant for the purpose of transferring water from surplus river basins to deficit river basins. Also, to mitigate the flood damages in the surplus river basins was considered feasible during 1970s. This has now become a pipedream due to several acts enacted from 1980 to 2006, pertaining to forest conservation, environment, wildlife, social welfare, tribal welfare, forest rights etc.

This river-linking project comprises of 30 links (14 Himalayan component and 16 peninsular component), along with construction of about 84 major dams. All this involves huge submersion of land, forests and acquisition of thousands of villages. We also have poor national record on resettlement of people displaced by mega dam projects. The only link (out of the above 30) taken up so far — “Ken-Betwa” — had to be stopped in 2011, due to non-clearance by the ministry of environment and forests as this project submerges lands in Panna Tiger Reserve.

Several experts have declared that river-linking project is a mission impossible since economic and environmental costs far outweigh the projected benefits. However, there is a way out — to make this project technically feasible, economically viable and acceptable to all the state governments.

In this innovative concept conceived by expert engineer T. Hanumantha Rao, diversion barrages (gated weirs) need to be constructed across rivers, with water stored up to possible maximum flood (PMF) level. This does not involve submersion of villages, as the submersion is limited to PMF only. All the canal links between rivers not having tunnel works can be executed for the purpose of inland water navigation for sea-going vessels up to 3,000 tonne capacities (not just small boats and launches) and also for transfer of small quantities of water. The link canals may be wide and deep enough to facilitate navigation of sea-going vessels.

Land acquisition for these link canals will be relatively very small when compared to the 84 big reservoirs and hence there would not be any major hurdles for the construction of these link canals in the first instance. Also, there would be no submersion of villages, displacement of people, relief and rehabilitation aspects in these proposals. However, acquisition of forest land would be rare and even where it occurs, it would be only to a minor extent. As such environmental and other clearances would be easy to obtain. Such an effort in the infrastructure would lead to phenomenal economic growth as happened in the US, Europe and Russia during the mid-20th century and happening now in China.

Before linking rivers through canals, it has to be preceded by making the rivers navigable for sea-going vessels. Number of barrages on rivers will have to be constructed to facilitate this. Thus in the first stage, it would be making rivers navigable and transfer of water for drinking purposes only.

Later, these canals can be converted for carrying large quantities of water from surplus river basins to the deficit basins, when dams are constructed. Wherever feasible, major dams can be constructed separately as a second stage activity. This is for the purpose of meeting the requirements within the basin as the first priority and if there is any surplus left, then to transfer the same to the neighbouring basin as a second priority.

Almost all Indian rivers have flood flows during the same period of about 80 days during the south-west monsoon and hence there is no point in transferring flood flows during that period. Flood waters will have to be impounded on the main river to supply water in non-rainy period, which is impossible. Reservoirs on some tributaries are possible but not in the present context of several acts mentioned above. To serve the purpose of transfer of water, it is, therefore, necessary to construct major reservoirs to store the flood flows in order to transfer water during the non-flood days to the deficit river basins.

Thus, the river-linking project previously envisaged can be best described aptly as construction of major reservoirs in surplus river basins, and just not mere construction of river link canals. In this modified proposals, such reservoirs can be constructed selectively, priority wise, as and when all the major clearances are obtained. Ken-Betwa link canal is the best example as to how project construction should not be started only to be stopped later on.

If China does things in a big way, let them do. For us in India, we should start things on a small scale and then go for big where “feasibility” should be the strategy. Interlinking of rivers remains a pet project for the BJP. It would definitely like to pursue this project with all seriousness and would like to overcome the problems in the present strategy. This alternative of Hanumantha Rao suggesting that the works will have to be modified and taken up in the stages as suggested above would be the way to go. Inter-basin transfers are not merely for increasing production, but also for meeting basic human need and achieving equity and social justice.

The writer is the national convenor of BJP Water Management Cell

( Source : dc )
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