The idea of River Interlinking was first proposed during the colonial era when Sir Arthur Cotton, a British general and irrigation engineer suggested linking the Ganga in the north and the Cauvery in the south for navigational purposes. The aim of the project was to link different surplus rivers of the country (which are prone to floods every year) with deficient rivers (which experience drought every year), so that the excess water from surplus regions could be diverted to water scarce regions.
The Union is working on creation of a new autonomous body i.e National Interlinking of Rivers Authority (NIRA). In order to plan, finance, investigate, and the implementation of the river interlinking projects in the country, (NIRA) will be given independent autonomous responsibility.
NIRA will be chaired by a panel consisting of Union Minister of Jal Shakti ( chairperson), Irrigation or Water Resources Ministers and Secretaries of States. It will function as an umbrella body for all river linking projects and will replace the existing National Water Development Agency (NWDA).
The proposed body is expected to take up both inter-State and intra-State projects and will also coordinate with neighbouring countries. NIRA also will be given power to issue clearances related to environment, wildlife and forest under river linking projects and their legal aspects.
NIRA will also make arrangements for generating up funds, internally and externally by acting as a repository of borrowed funds on deposit or loan given on interest. NIRA will also have the power to set up a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) for individual link projects due to which foreign investments are expected.
MERITS OF RIVER LINKING PROJECTS
Bringing Down Regional Imbalance: India has a high dependence on monsoon rains that are irregular as well as regionally imbalanced. Interlinking of rivers will help to regulate the volume of surplus rain and river water which flows into the sea.
Irrigation: Other than the monsoon, Indian agriculture is highly dependent on irrigation. Interlinking the rivers can provide a solution to the rain-fed irrigation problems through the transferring of surplus water to deficit regions with the network of canal and barrages.
Tackling Water Distress: River inter linking can help in water management in the country, can help in mitigating the effect of drought and floods to a certain extent.
Miscellaneous Benefits: Hydro-electric power generation, development water transport, Employment generation, Ecological benefits as dried up forests and lands will be replenished etc.
Ecological Costs: The project threatens to obstruct the natural ecology of rivers as when a river changes its natural course it can create new problems. Moreover the human induced structural changes can threaten the forests of the Himalayas and even impact the functioning of the monsoon system.
Displacement of people: As large strips of land ( 15000 km approx) might have to be converted to canals,It is estimated that the network of the project would displace about 5.5 million people, mostly tribals and farmers. These vulnerable groups need new rehabilitated areas.
Financial Costs: It is estimated that river interlinking will be a huge fiscal burden on the exchequer.
Impact on biodiversity: Many environmental groups are of the opinion that the project could be an ecological disaster. There would be a decrease in flows resulting in reduction of freshwater inflows into the seas seriously jeopardizing biodiversity. Moreover submergence of inland areas will impact the local biodiversity.
Current status ILR Projects
Out of the , six ILR projects — the Ken-Betwa is India’s first inter linking project, the other five are Damanganga-Pinjal, Par-Tapi-Narmada, Manas-Sankosh-Teesta-Ganga, Mahanadi-Godavari and Godavari-Cauvery (Grand Anicut) and in peninsular india Godavari-Cauvery link is on priority.
River Interlinking projects have many implications like economic, political, and environmental implications at national level. Therefore a wise decision is to start the project in a decentralized manner, and more sustainable ways like rainwater harvesting should be promoted to mitigate floods and droughts.