Debating India


Interlinking, a long haul project

Thursday 21 April 2005, by PARSAI*Gargi

NEW DELHI: The programme on the inter-linking of rivers is being pushed in the name of an order passed by the Supreme Court whereas the fact is that the apex court had not made any such pronouncement. This is coming to the fore with the growing realisation in the Union Ministry of Water Resources that it would not be feasible to complete the project - involving the construction of 30 river links - in 10 years. In the minimum, it would take 35 years.

On September 30, 2002, the Supreme Court observed: "We do expect that the programme when drawn up would try and ensure that the link projects are completed within a reasonable time of not more than 10 years."

No time-frame set

At no point of time did the court issue an order setting a time-frame. But the National Democratic Alliance Government then and, the United Progressive Alliance Government now, are using the court observations as a reason for pushing the project.

The Congress claims the programme was conceived during its rule in the 1970s without conceding that both K.L. Rao’s proposal for a `National Water Grid’ and Captain Dastur’s `Garland Canal’ scheme were rejected as unfeasible at the time. The Rao proposal was abandoned as "economically unviable" and the Dastur proposal for being "technically unfeasible."

In various fora, the Water Ministry has taken the stand that it would take between 35 and 40 years to complete the major 30 links that have been planned at an estimated cost of Rs. 5,60,000 crores.

This was said so recently in a Parliamentary Standing Committee meeting, quoting a study done by the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) for the Task Force on Rivers Linking, headed by Suresh Prabhu. The Task Force has since been dismantled.

The NCAER study said that with the use of remote sensing technology and construction techniques, the programme could be aimed for completion in 25 years. The final report of the Council is awaited.

Although conservative estimates of funding were made by the NCAER and the ICICI group, there were no clear suggestions on raising funds. ICICI proposed that the funding be partly through public, public-private and private inputs and by the imposition of a cess and raising water tariffs.

Government pledge

On coming to power, the UPA Government pledged that it would carry out a comprehensive review of the river-linking programme.

The exercise does not seem to have been completed yet, but the UPA will retain the Ken-Betwa (between Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh) and the Parbati-Kalisindh-Chambal links (between Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan) as the priority links.

However, in view of the concern expressed by neighbouring countries in bilateral talks, the Government has decided to take the stand that it was too early to pursue the matter with them as it was still at a "conceptual" stage.

The recent study, "Unravelling Bhakra," which has debunked the mega dam’s role in Punjab’s prosperity, underscores the need for a review of the large dams oriented scheme such as linking of rivers.

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