Inter- Basin Water Transfer/ Interlinking Rivers: India

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History, background


May 8, 2021: The Times of India

In 1980 a National Perspective Plan was formalised. This involved transfer of water from water-surplus basins to water-deficit basins/regions in which 30 links were identified. Somehow, the term ‘river interlinking’ stuck in the public imagination though its real name could have been the National Inter- Basin Water Transfer Project.

So why do we need to link rivers? Though India receives about 4,000 BCM (billion cubic meters) of precipitation annually, utilisable resources are only 1,123 BCM. Even these are not distributed evenly in space or time. Most of the precipitation occurs in about 90 days in a year and the distribution of annual average availability ranges from 510 BCM for Ganga, 527 BCM from Brahmaputra and 11.02 BCM for Pennar and 12.06 BCM for Sabarmati. This shows the skew between potential demands and availability. It has, therefore, been recognised that the inter-basin transfer of water is the only recourse for making an equitable distribution of water across the country and thereby ensuring equal opportunities of development.

Inter-basin water transfer is not a new concept and there have been many such successful examples in the country. It has been practised in our country since 1887 when the Mulla Periyar dam was built and waters of the west-flowing river basin were transferred to east flowing Vaigai basin transforming agricultural development in and around Madurai for about 68,000 hectares.

Just ask any one in Madurai about the role this water plays in their lives. Similarly, we have already made trans- basin transfers in case of the Beas Satluj link, Sardar Sahayak pariyojana, Sardar Sarovar project, Kurnool Cudddapah canal etc which are functioning well. In the US, the Colorado-Big Thompson project has been functioning since the 1930s and has contributed greatly to the economy of Colorado state.

Pandya is Secretary General, International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage

Our quest to control rivers doesn’t account for the stiff ecological cost

The earliest version of the ILRP was, in fact, first championed in the 1850s by the famed colonial engineer and irrigator General Sir Arthur Cotton. Titled the Peninsular Scheme, Cotton’s plan was to build navigation canals that would link Karachi (now in Pakistan) to Madras (Chennai) via Kanpur, Kolkata and Cuttack with additional lines crawling upwards to Pune. In terms of rivers, this meant connecting the Indus to the Ganga with canals before dropping the latter steeply to the South to link up with the Mahanadi, Krishna, Godavari and finally the Cauvery. And if such a vast navigation network could be built, the General then confidently concluded, there would be no need for the railways in British India.

D’Souza is Professor, Graduate School of Asian and African Area Studies, Kyoto University

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