The initial plan to interlink India’s rivers came in 1858 from a British irrigation engineer, Sir Arthur Thomas Cotton. Since late last year, the scheme has been implemented by the Central government in several segments such as the Godavari-Krishna interlink in Andhra Pradesh, and the Ken-Betwa interlink in Madhya Pradesh. The evidence on the benefits of the interlinking scheme is mixed.

Inter-basin inequality : Argument in support of inter-linking of rivers

This well-known inequality in distribution is the reason given for the diverting water from the Ganga basin, which floods even in drought years as it did in Assam this year, through a complex of canals and medium-sized storages into less-endowed rivers. Dams can be built and Storage provides flexibility in the uses of water.

Being able to successfully transfer water through the interlinking of rivers will mean

35 million hectares of irrigation, raising the ultimate irrigation potential from 140 million hectare to 175 million hectare
generation of 34000 megawatt of power,
Benefits of flood control, navigation, water supply, fisheries, salinity and pollution control

Perils of linking rivers

1.River interlinking will cost the government about Rs. 11 Lakh crore.
2.Projects that involve connecting 14 Himalayan rivers and 16 in peninsular India implies that 15,000 km of new canals will have to be added to relocate 174 BCM of water.
3.Massive displacement of people. The possibility that it could displace nearly 1.5 million people due to the submergence of 27.66 lakh hectares of land.
4.Since the Ganga basin’s topography is flat, building dams would not substantially add to river flows and these dams could threaten the forests of the Himalayas and impact the functioning of the monsoon system.
5.Climate change is another concern. In interlinking systems, it is assumed that the donor basin has surplus water that can be made available to the recipient basin.
6.If in future, this basic assumption goes haywire for any system, wherein our perennial systems – mostly Himalayan – don’t retain the same character of being donor basins, then the whole concept goes for a toss. This will happen if the glaciers don’t sustain their glacier mass due to climate change.

Suggestions for efficient use of water

1.Curbing demand by efficient utilisation of existing water resources should be prioritised.
2.Growing crops that were appropriate to a region
3.Encouraging drip irrigation.
4.Reviving traditional systems such as the use of tanks