Insights into Editorial: A flood of questions

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Insights into Editorial: A flood of questions


 

Context:

Union Government will begin work in around a month on an $87 billion scheme to connect some of the country’s biggest rivers. The mammoth plan entails linking nearly 60 rivers, including the mighty Ganges, which the government hopes will cut farmers’ dependence on fickle monsoon rains by bringing millions of hectares of cultivatable land under irrigation and help generate thousands of megawatts of electricity.

In recent weeks, some parts of India and neighbouring Bangladesh and Nepal have been hit by the worst monsoon floods in years, following two years of poor rainfall.

Introduction

Water is the most important natural resource on the planet, as it sustains all aspects of life in a way that no other resource can. United Nations agencies and the World Bank have claimed that these scarcities will escalate in the future, creating serious problems for humankind and the environment. India needs to adopt a crystal-clear water mission that can help us to use available water resources to fields, villages, towns and industries round the year, without harming our environment.

Keeping in mind the increasing demand for water, the government of India has developed a new National Water Policy which claims that water is a prime natural resource, a basic need and a precious national asset. India’s National Water Development Agency (NWDA) has suggested the interlinking of rivers of the country.

The problem of Inter-basin Inequality

Inequality in distribution is the reason why engineers at the CWC and India’s water resources ministry have urged for the diverting water from the Ganga basin, which floods even in drought years. 

  • Storage provides us flexibility in the uses of water.
  • Dams are required but whether they must be big or small is something that must be decided based on the region they are located.
  • Being able to successfully transfer water through the interlinking of rivers will mean millions of hectares of irrigation, raising the ultimate irrigation potential and generation of 34000 megawatt of power, apart from the incidental benefits of flood control, navigation, and water supply, fisheries, salinity and pollution control, according to the Central government.

Interlinking River Project (ILR)

The interlinking of rivers has two components: the Himalayan component and a Peninsular one. All interlinking schemes are aimed at transferring of water from one river system to another or by lifting across natural basins.

Major advantages of ILR

  • Creates the potential to increase agricultural production.
  • Avoids the loss of crops because of extreme draught or flood condition.
  • Unify the country by involving every Panchayat as a shareholder and implement agency;
  • Eradicate the flooding problems which recur in the northeast and the north every year;
  • Provide employment opportunities.
  • Solves the water crisis situation by providing alternative, perennial water resources;
  • The large canals linking the rivers are also expected to facilitate inland navigation too;

Ken-Betwa Link project

Despite opposition from environmentalists, tiger lovers and a former royal family, the first phase of the project will involve construction of a dam on the Ken River, also known as the Karnavati, in north-central India and a 22-km (14-mile) canal connecting it to the shallow Betwa.

  • The link will facilitate export of water from drought-prone Bundelkhand to the upper Betwa basin.
  • Critics say that there has been no credible environmental impact assessment of the link and no public hearings in canal and downstream affected areas and the link’s environmental management plan is still being prepared.
  • They also say that the Ken-Betwa link threatens about 200 sq. km of the Panna tiger reserve and with it the Ken River and large parts of Bundelkhand.

The government justifies the Ken-Betwa link, and indeed the river interlinking project as a whole, by saying that it will provide irrigation, water supply, hydropower and flood control. 

What are the perils of interlinking of rivers?

Inter-River Linking Project involves multifaceted issues and challenges related to economic, ecological, and social costs.

  • Interlinking of rivers is a very expensive
  • It has huge adverse environmental impacts on land, forests, biodiversity, rivers and the livelihood of millions of people.
  • Social unrest/Psychological damage due to forced resettlement of local people.
  • It will not only add to climate change impact but will also reduce our capacity to adapt to climate change.
  • The huge expenditure may likely generate fiscal problems that are difficult to handle.
  • A section of scientists argue that large dams and reservoirs also cause earthquakes. The controversies over koyna dam, Tehri dam are few such examples.
  • Transfer of water is bound to be unacceptable as no state is likely to transfer water to another foregoing possible future use of such water. Domestic and regional geo-politics play a pivotal role on the discussions on ILR as Water is listed as entry 17 in List II of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution.
  • Strained relationship with neighbours. IRL project has caused much anger and protest in our neighbouring nation, Bangladesh.
  • In interlinking systems, it is assumed that the donor basin has surplus water that can be made available to the recipient basin. If in future, this basic assumption goes irrational if our perennial Himalayan Rivers 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.

What is the advantage of having Natural resource accounting framework?

India has insufficient data related to the water sector. Many water stressed countries produce these on a regular basis at a regional level and link them to national accounts statistics.

  • Water resource accounts provide an accounting framework that enables the integration of specialised physical resource sector data with other information on the economics of water supply.
  • In addition to facilitating the integration and sharing of a more comprehensive knowledge base, the natural resource accounting framework provides the basis for evaluating the consistency between the objectives and priorities of water resource management
  • It also provides basis for broader goals of economic development planning and policy at a national and local scale.
  • This in turn improves communication between various agencies generating and using information about water for various purposes and contributes to better coordination.
  • The advantage of such an account is that it makes it possible to capture direct, indirect and induced water demand in the process of economic production.

Way Forward

As this project is of massive estimated cost, a long term planning and a sound financial simulation are required to meet the standard of due diligence for such proposals.

  • Comprehensive assessment of all possible impacts in a credible way has to be done.
  • Study needs to conducted on the economic viability of project, socio-economic impacts, environmental impacts
  • Preparation of resettlement plans;
  • Develop a mechanism for speedy consensus amongst states and prioritize different projects;
  • Need of organizational structures for implementing the project;
  • Consider funding modalities for the project;
  • Consider the international ramifications of the project.
  • The problem of providing domestic water supplies in areas away from the rivers will largely remain unsolved, even if the interlinking project is completed. Hence, the focus of our water resources development should also be on how the groundwater lifeline can be sustained.

The government should pay more attention to its ‘more crop per drop’ mission, to what extent Indian agriculture follows this practice and whether water-stressed regions are water exporters due to the crops they cultivate.

Conclusion

Successful implementation of this project largely looms upon timely release of water from the surplus basin to the deficit basin.

Amidst rapid development and urbanization, out-dated systems of managing water resources; it is the high time for India to come forward in all-out manner to transform this dream project into a big reality.

Fact is that the ILR projects are site and requirement specific depending upon the hydrological, geological, topographical and regional conditions. So, it is essential that needed environmental safeguards are properly implemented in a coordinated manner by various agencies.