Interlinking of Rivers in India: Significance and Challenges

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  • Context (PIB): Minister of Jal Shakti chaired 21st Meeting of Special Committee for Interlinking of Rivers.
  • It is an initiative to transfer water from water-surplus regions to water deficient & rain-fed areas through inter-basin transfers, to ensure greater equity in the distribution of water.
  • ILRs are identified by the National Water Development Agency (NWDA), under the National Perspective Plan (NPP).
  • Nodal Ministry: Ministry of Jal Shakti.
  • Components under NPP: It includes two components, which comprises 30 links;
    1. 14 links under the Himalayan Rivers Component and
    2. 16 links under the Peninsular Rivers Component.
  • Objective: To connect more than 60 rivers across India through a network of storage dams to form a gigantic South Asian Water Grid.

National Perspective Plan

  • It was prepared by the then Ministry of Irrigation (now Ministry of Jal Shakti) in 1980.
  • Objective: Water resources development through inter-basin transfer of water, for transferring water from water surplus basins to water-deficit basins.

Interlinking of Rivers

Significance of Interlinking of Rivers

  • Redistributing water flow: Flood control in the Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghna basin and drought control in the western and peninsular states such as Rajasthan, Gujarat, AP, Karnataka and TN
  • Improved irrigation facilities in the water-scarce western and peninsular region, thereby increasing agriculture productivity, leading to enhanced food security and doubling of farmers’ income.
  • Hydropower potential: It would add approx. 34,000 MW of hydropower to the energy pool of the nation addressing the electricity woes of industrial, agricultural, and rural households.
  • Commercial benefits: Creation of logistics infrastructure, enable freight movement through environmentally friendly inland waterways.
  • Sustainable development: It would help address the critical groundwater situation in the country by utilizing surface water and preventing flow of freshwater into the sea.
  • Other benefits: Reduced burden on women to fetch water from long distances, employment opportunities in rural areas, multiply benefits through backward and forward linkages, etc.

Challenges with Interlinking of Rivers

  • Environmental challenges: It may result in evaporation losses, water logging & salinity, and land submergence. For eg: Ken Betwa link may imperil areas of Panna National Park.
  • Developmental Displacement’
  • Lack of Transparency and Information: Conclusive feasibility studies of the project have not been conducted in detail, nor have its economic, social and ecological implications been assessed.
  • Impact of Climate change: Changing rainfall pattern with changing climate makes the implementation and achievement of intended benefits of ILR projects uncertain.
  • Federal aspects: Water being a state subject, it is difficult to resolve issues of water sharing between states. For eg, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
  • Challenges in coordination with neighbouring countries like Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh.
  • Unexplored alternatives such as watershed development, rainwater harvesting, optimising existing infrastructure and cropping methods could well address the water woes of the country.

Way Forward

  • Scientific and technical assessment of the project to make it techno-economically feasible.
  • Rehabilitation & relief package to resolve ‘developmental displacement’ issue.
  • Including local communities, farmers, environmentalists, and state governments in the planning and implementation of the project.
  • Assessing the ecological impact of interlinking rivers and ensure that sensitive ecosystems, biodiversity, and wildlife habitats are protected.
  • Phased implementation based on feasibility, benefits, & minimal environmental-social impacts.

National Interlinking of Rivers Authority

  • It is an independent autonomous body for planning, investigation, financing, and the implementation of the river interlinking projects in India.
  • It will replace the National Water Development Agency (NWDA) and will function as an umbrella body for all river linking projects.
  • It will coordinate with neighbouring countries and concerned states and departments “as directed” by the Ministry of Jal Shakti/Ministry of External Affairs.
  • It shall have powers on issues related to environment, wildlife and forest clearances under the project.
  • It can raise funds and act as a repository of borrowed funds or money received on deposit or loan given on interest.
  • It shall have the power to set up a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) for individual link projects.
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