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Need for a national consensus

Need for a national consensus
Highlights

The realisation of Pattiseema that links Krishna and Godavari rivers has reopened the debate over the benefits of linking rivers. The government of the day in New Delhi is sympathetic to the concept of linking rivers.

The realisation of Pattiseema that links Krishna and Godavari rivers has reopened the debate over the benefits of linking rivers. The government of the day in New Delhi is sympathetic to the concept of linking rivers. But, the grand project has its powerful detractors too. Such a massive public policy intervention that has a long gestation period for completion cannot be left to the wisdom of any particular government whose life span is limited to five years. There should be national consensus on the viability, feasibility and possibility of fulfilling the adventurous dream of interlinking rivers as a solution to the water woes of India.

Modi government’s grand plan envisages linking and redesigning 37 major rivers by constructing about 3,000 big dams and reservoirs. The idea is certainly magnificent for nation where one sixth is drought prone and one-eighths is flood affected. A country which has both water abundant and water starved areas, a country which enjoys precipitation only for limited period in a year will be immensely benefited by linking rivers across the country, argues the advocates of this plan.

But, the critics argued it to be unimplentable idea emanating from political hubris and audacity. Besides, an intervention into geography and nature of such an unprecedented scale will have unpredictable consequences. Investment may be mind-boggling. The cost of maintenance could be profligatory.

The official estimates itself suggest that the Interlinking Rivers (ILR) project could cost over Rs 11 lakh crore. But, the experience reveals such mega projects would have very high time and cost overruns. According to South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP), the inter linking rivers will be possible only if at least 15 lakh people are displaced besides submerging forests, wildlife sanctuaries and natural habitat. Thus the cost effectiveness is questionable. Sharing of rivers on such a largescale is certainly prone to intricate interstate disputes. The resolution could be intractable.

However, the Supreme Court described the inter linking of rivers to be in the national interest. But, environmentalists and other sceptics dismissed it as judicial over reach. Judiciary cannot adventure into such highly-technical subject where opinion is totally divided. The availability of water in various basins and sub-basins is varying with each passing year due to climate change. Similarly, water-use patterns are also undergoing significant alteration. Therefore any calculation of surplus can prove to be erroneous in future making this far-reaching irrigation infrastructure a colossal loss.

The interlinking of rivers enforces change in the natural course of rivers that can even be ecologically catastrophic. The developmental debate cannot be whimsical or partisan. Decades of debate on this vexed question could not yield either political or technical consensus. Populism on such crucial projects is highly unwarranted. Informed debate is the need of the hour. Few links like Pattiseema can be experimented before embarking upon largescale intervention into river eco-system.

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