Many of us might not be aware but much before the 21st century, India has already planned a Mega Project of Rivers Interlinking, which aims to interlink all the rivers of the nation. This is undoubtedly going to be one of the biggest, largest and most huge-scale project of the nation and therefore it is regarded as India’s Mega Project. Now, this mega project of interlinkage of all the rivers in India is going to be a game changer in numerous aspects; however, at the same time it is also going to be one of the toughest project for India, as a nation. Well, one can easily guess that this mega project will require a lot of extra attention from the government to the planners, site engineers and the workers involved.
Mega Project History – Pre Independence
The Inter-linking of Rivers in India proposal has a long history. During the British colonial rule, the 19th century engineer Arthur Cotton proposed the plan to interlink major Indian rivers in order to hasten import and export of goods from its colony in South Asia, as well as to address water shortages and droughts in south-eastern India, now Andhra Pradesh and Orissa.
Mega Project History – Post Independence
In the 1970s, Dr. K.L. Rao, a dam’s designer and former irrigation minister proposed “National Water Grid.” He was concerned about the severe shortages of water in the South and repetitive flooding in the North every year. He suggested that the Brahmaputra and Ganga basins are water surplus areas, central, and south India as water deficit areas. He proposed that surplus water be diverted to areas of deficit. When Rao made the proposal, several inter-basin transfer projects had already been successfully implemented in India, and Rao suggested that the success be scaled up.
In 1980, India’s Ministry of Water Resources came out with a report entitled “National Perspectives for Water Resources Development.” This report split the water development project in two parts – the Himalayan and Peninsular components. Unfortunately, the Congress Party came to power, it abandoned this path-breaking plan, and the projects were not pursued.
Rise of Hope with Atal Bihari Vajpayee (NDA) Government
The river inter-linking idea was revived in 1999, after a new political alliance of BJP and other supporting parties (NDA) formed the central government, but this time with a major strategic shift. The proposal was modified to intra-basin development as opposed to inter-basin water transfer.
Moral Downfall under the Congress Rule
After the change in government in 2004, the new government under the rule of the Congress Party and their alliance (UPA) things started to face several red-tape hindrances and ultimately the project got neglected in a very bad manner and things got delayed to many years.
The Resurrection under the Modi Government
In the year 2014 when the BJP came into power with full majority and with a PM who is known for development, it was obvious that the project would be revived. Under the leadership of the Modi Government, it was made sure that India would not stay away from mega projects and rather the country would take up these high voltage projects and complete them for the citizens of the country.
Now, comes the big question that why is it so important to have the rivers of the country interlinked? Well, there are several reasons, which will prove that the ‘National Rivers Interlinking Project’ is going to be a game changer for India, so let us discuss them –
1) Drought, Floods & Shortage of Drinking Water: The nation sees cycles of drought years and flood years, with large parts of west and south experiencing more deficits and large variations, resulting in immense hardship particularly the poorest farmers and rural populations. Lack of irrigation water regionally leads to crop failures and farmer suicides.
Despite abundant rains during July to September, some regions in other seasons see shortages of drinking water. Some years, the problem temporarily becomes too much rainfall, and weeks of havoc from floods. This excess-scarcity regional disparity and flood-drought cycles have created the need for water resources management. Rivers inter-linking is one proposal to address that need.
2) Population and Food Security: Population increase in India is the other driver of need for river inter-linking. India’s population growth rate has been falling, but still continues to increase by about 10 to 15 million people every year. The resulting demand for food must be satisfied with higher yields and better crop security, both of which require adequate irrigation of about 140 million hectares of land.
Currently, just a fraction of that land is irrigated, and most irrigation relies on monsoon. River inter-linking is claimed to be a possible means of assured and better irrigation for more farmers, and thus better food security for a growing population. In a tropical country like India with high evapotranspiration, food security can be achieved with water security, which in turn is achieved with energy security to pump water to uplands from water surplus lower elevation river points up to sea level.
3) Salt Export Needs: When sufficient salt export is not taking place from a river basin to the sea in an attempt to harness the river water fully, it leads to river basin closure, and the available water in downstream area of the river basin closer to the sea becomes saline and or alkaline water. Land irrigated with saline or alkaline water gradually turns in to saline or alkali soils. Interlinking water surplus rivers with water Deficit Rivers is needed for the long-term sustainable productivity of the river basins and for mitigating the anthropogenic influences on the rivers by allowing adequate salt export to the sea in the form of environmental flows.
4) Navigation: India needs infrastructure for logistics and movement of freight. Using connected rivers as navigation is a cleaner, low carbon footprint form of transport infrastructure, particularly for ores and food grains.
5) Current Reserves and the Loss in Groundwater Level: India currently stores only 30 days of rainfall, while developed nations strategically store 900 days’ worth of water demand in arid areas river basins and reservoirs. India’s dam reservoirs store only 200 cubic meters per person. India also relies excessively on groundwater, which accounts for over 50 percent of irrigated area with 20 million tube wells installed.
About 15 percent of India’s food is being produced using rapidly depleting groundwater. The end of the era of massive expansion in groundwater use is going to demand greater reliance on surface water supply systems. Proponents of the project suggest India’s water situation is already critical, and it needs sustainable development and management of surface water and groundwater usage.
Written By NEEL PREET – Author of the Books, Voice From The East (2016); Journey With Time Place And Circumstances (2018) & Indian Defence Files (2021).