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RSTV: THE BIG PICTURE- FLOODS AND RIVER LINKING


RSTV: THE BIG PICTURE- FLOODS AND RIVER LINKING


Introduction:

            Some northern Indian states could receive rainfall during the next 4-5 days, but monsoon activity could be subdued in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra’s interiors, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana in the next 3-4 days, the India Meteorological Department said on Sunday. After recording above normal rains between July 6 and July 11, monsoon appears to be slowing down, sparking concerns in the agriculture sector, according to experts. Overall rainfall deficiency in the country till last Sunday was 12.5% over the long period average, an improvement from June’s 33% — the highest deficiency in June in four years. The sluggish monsoon has impacted the sowing of summer cops. But in northeastern India, floods have caused widespread damage, with several lives being lost as a result of flooding.

 

The interlinking project aims to link India’s rivers by a network of reservoirs and canals that will allow for their water capacities to be shared and redistributed. According to some, this is an engineered panacea that will reduce persistent floods in some parts and water shortages in other parts besides facilitating the generation of hydroelectricity for an increasingly power hungry country.

 

Components:

Since the 1980s, the interlinking project has been managed by India’s National Water Development Agency (NWDA) under the Ministry of Water Resources. It has been split into three parts:

  1. A northern Himalayan rivers interlink component.
  2. A southern peninsular component.
  3. An intra-State rivers linking component.

The NWDA has studied and prepared reports on 14 projects for the Himalayan region, 16 projects for the peninsular India component and 36 intra-State river interlinking projects. However, various governments have shelved the idea for a number of reasons.

 

Why this is a good idea?

  • India receives most of its rain during monsoon season from June to September, most of it falls in northern and eastern part of India, the amount of rainfall in southern and western part are comparatively low. It will be these places which will have shortage of water. Interlinking of rivers will help these areas to have water throughout the year.
  • This will cut farmers dependence on monsoon rains by bringing millions of hectares of cultivatable land under irrigation.
  • Crop productivity would increase and so would revenues for the State.
  • Even one bad monsoon has a direct and debilitating economic impact.
  • The river linking project will ease the water shortages in western and southern India while mitigating the impacts of recurrent floods in eastern India.
  • The Ganga Basin, Brahmaputra basin sees floods almost every year. In order to avoid this, the water from these areas has to be diverted to other areas where there is scarcity of water. This can be achieved by linking the rivers. There is a two way advantage with this – floods will be controlled and scarcity of water will be reduced.
  • Simultaneous floods and droughts continue to wreak havoc, destroying the lives and livelihoods of millions.
  • India needs clean energy to fuel its development processes, and river water can be leveraged for this.
  • Fulfilling water needs impact socio-economic life of people which will help end poverty.
  • Need for interlinking of rivers to prevent inter-state water disputes.
  • Potential benefits to transportation through navigation, as well as broadening income sources in rural areas through fishing.

 

Critics argue that:

  • The idea that river linking would allow us to cope with flood in the north east and shortage of water in the Deccan is the positive aspect as pointed earlier but misleading one too. This floods come at the time when most parts of the country run short of water, we need to hold the water somewhere to use it in dry season but the amount of flowing in the short period of time in Brahmaputra and Ganga is so huge to store and use it later.
  • Interlinking of rivers is a very expensive proposal. The amount required for these projects is so huge that government will have to take loans from the foreign sources which would increase the burden on the government and country will fall in a debt trap.
  • The river interlinking project will adversely affect land, forests, biodiversity, rivers and the livelihood of millions of people.
  • The Ken-Betwa link threatens about 200 sq. km of the Panna tiger reserve.
  • Interlinking of rivers will lead to destruction of forests, wetlands and local water bodies, which are major groundwater recharge mechanisms.
  • Less than positive experience that other countries have, like diversion of Amu Darya and the Syr Darya or the Australia’s experiments in its Murray Darling basin.
  • It causes massive displacement of people. Huge burden on the government to deal with the issue of rehabilitation of displaced people.
  • Due to interlinking of rivers, there will be decrease in the amount of fresh water entering seas and this will cause a serious threat to the marine life.
  • The Shah committee pointed out that the linking of rivers will affect natural supply of nutrients for agricultural lands through curtailing flooding of downstream areas.

 

Challenges:

  • India has 18 percent of the world’s population but only 4 percent of the usable water resources.
  • Variability in rainfall is high which is the main source in the country, flood and drought simultaneously within the states of Bihar and Maharashtra.
  • Irrigation potential from interlinking rivers will have limited impact. The net national irrigated area from big dams has decreased and India’s irrigated area has gone up primarily due to groundwater.
  • We don’t have River basin plan yet in place.
  • Large hydropower projects are no longer a viable option in India.
  • Storing large quantities of waters. Most of the sites suitable for the big reservoirs are in Nepal, Bhutan and in the North-East—who are in opposition to big storage reservoirs.
  • Water has now become a political issue.
  • There are political challenges as well. Water transfer and water sharing are sensitive subjects.
  • If the glaciers don’t sustain their glacier mass due to climate change, the interlinking project will have limited benefit.
  • Usually rivers change their course and direction in about 100 years and if this happens after interlinking, then the project will not be feasible for a longer run.

 

Way Forward:

  • To look at water as a strategic resource for development.
  • Environment is one issue where anyone of us should be concerned about.
  • Best practices done by China and neighboring countries needs to be looked upon.
  • The biggest, cheapest, most benign, possibly fastest and most decentralized storage option for India is the groundwater
  • Invest in water conservation, more efficient irrigation and better farm practices.
  • Recycling of water for internal usage as that of Israel.
  • We need a mandatory enforceable river policy aimed at treating rivers as national treasure.
  • Accumulation of silt in huge quantities, particularly the Ganga and its tributaries. These rivers need to be desilted.
  • River linking in the south and other parts which was undertaken in the past has been going well so such model needs to be taken forward.
  • Planting trees on the river banks is one way of bringing life back to the rivers.
  • Forest catchments will need to be restored, wastewater from industries and towns will need to be treated, sand mining need to be stopped.
  • Need to build the responsibility, capability and accountability in our water management institutions to revive our rivers.
  • The judicious use of canal water, growing crops that are appropriate to a region, encouraging drip irrigation and reviving traditional systems such as tanks.

 

Conclusion:

The river linking project is a great challenge and an opportunity to address the water issues arising out of climate change. The long-term solution to water scarcity lies in making the IRL project work by building a network of dams and canals across the length and breadth of the country. However, interlinking has to take place after a detailed study so that does not cause any problem to the environment or aquatic life.

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