Diverting Rivers for Linking, a Catastrophic Idea

Diverting Rivers for Linking, a Catastrophic Idea

Aggregated cost of Linking Rivers, Rs 1, 25, 342 crore at 2002-3 prices

Centre and few state governments outwitting Court with intra-state links

 New Delhi/Oct 18,2011

Supreme Court heard the Networking of Rivers Case (Writ Petition Civil 512 of 2002) on October 17, 2011 which entails diversion of rivers for linking them in both Himalayan and peninsular India. Environmental groups in India in particular and South Asia in general are opposed to such projects because it will lead to Aral Sea like ecological disaster and will endanger the life of rivers for good. Diversion of two Siberian rivers led to drying up of Aral Sea.

ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA) welcomes the precautionary approach adopted by the three-judge bench of Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia, Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan and Justice Swatanter Kumar by seeking to know its financial viability and possible displacement due to land acquisition for the mega project. Environmental groups have contended for long that diverting rivers for linking inevitably involves acquisition of both land and water. The court posted the matter for further hearing in January 2012.

Earlier, Supreme Court had suggested that this project should be completed by the year 2016. Since then Union Ministry of Environment & Forests has opposed the project and Kerela, Punjab and West Bengal have rejected this project.

It is noteworthy that National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) did a study on “Economic Impact of Interlinking of Rivers Programme” in April 2008. The Foreword to the study admits, “Economic impact of certain benefits such as mitigation of drought and floods to a certain extent, increased revenue/income from fishing, picnic site and amusement park are not taken into consideration.” If one looks at NCAER itself observes saying “interlinking of rivers programme (ILR) programme is aimed at linking different surplus rivers of country with the deficient rivers so that the excess water from surplus region could be diverted to deficient region,” it is clear drought, flood and livelihood from activating like fishing ha snot been considered. This is the outcome of the study was meant to assess the macro impact of the ILR programme on Indian economy both at short- as well as long-term.

This is the study on the basis of which Ministry of Water Resources claims that the ILR project is viable has revealed that drought and flood is a non-issue as far as economic impact of ILR is concerned. The fact is that the interlocutory application that was filed in the Maili Yamuna case in the Supreme Court was turned into a Public Interest Litigation by the then Chief Justice B N Kripal on the premise that the ILR project would lead to drought proofing and flood proofing of the country. The Court’s order for ILR project was based on the assumption that there is consensus among the states for this project. Subsequently, it has been found that both these premises do not exist.

The NCAER study observes that the cost of the overall ILR programme was estimated by the task force/NWDA as Rs 5,60,000 crore at 2002-03 prices. This estimate suffers from two infirmities. First, the cost of 30 links has been taken, whereas there are only 29 links. Jogigopa–Tista–Farakka (JTF) is an alternative link to Manas–Sankosh–Tista–Ganga (MSTG) and only one of these two links will be constructed.

It is noteworthy that in the meeting of Government’s Experts Committee on Interlinking of Rivers that since, Manas and Brahmaputra rivers were discussed. It was contended that they are international in nature, planning of water resources of the region need lot of care with respect to international dimensions. It has also been contended that there are problems presently in sharing of Ganga waters and this type of problem may also arise in Brahmaputra and Manas regions in additions to the environmental and ecological issues attached to the regions. Therefore, it is better to give up the MSTG link under ILR.

The study considers two alternatives of cost estimates taking into account alternative links (MSTG or JTF). The new aggregated cost of entire programme with MSTG link is estimated as Rs 4, 44, 331.20 crore at 2003-04 prices. The new aggregated cost is Rs 1, 15, 668.20 crore or 20.7 per cent lower than the earlier aggregate cost estimate of Rs 5,60,000 crore at 2002-03 prices. The new aggregated cost of entire programme with JTF link is estimated as Rs 4, 34, 657.13 crore at 2003-04 prices.

The study cites experience of Pakistan in the area of interlinking of river could be an inspiration for India arguing that if it can complete the interlinking of its river in 10 years, it should not be difficult for India to complete the task of interlinking of rivers.

The study feigned ignorance about the relevant recommendations of the two volume Report of the National Commission for Water Resource Development set up by the Union Ministry of Water Resources that was submitted in September, 1999. Volume-I of the report says: “The Himalayan river linking data is not freely available, but on the basis of public information, it appears that the Himalayan river linking component is not feasible for the period of review up to 2050.” The report underlines that the problems are in the entire plan of linking the Himalayan rivers.

With regard to the Peninsular river component, the National Commission for Integrated Water Resources Development states, “there is no imperative necessity for massive water transfer. The assessed needs of the basins could be met from full development and efficient utilisation of intra-basic resources except in the case of Cauvery and Vaigai basins. Some water transfer from Godavari towards the south should take care of the deficit in the Cauvery and Vaigai basins.”

Unmindful of the above recommendations of the High Powered Commission headed by Prof S R Hashim, Feasibility Studies of the links in the Peninsular Component of the Interlinking of Rivers project has already been prepared by National Water Development Agency (NWDA), Government of India. These links include:  1. Krishna (Almatti) Pennar Link, 2. Inchampalli Nagarjunasagar Link, 3. Inchampalli Pulichintala Link, 4. Ken Betwa Link Project, 5. Nagarjunasagar Somasila Link, 6. Parbati Kalisindh Chambal Link Project, 7. Srisailam Pennar Link, 8. Cauvery Vaigai Gundar Link, 9. Damanganga Pinjal Link, 10. Mahanadi Godavari Link Project, 11. Pamba Achankovil Vaippar Link, 12. Par Tapi Narmada Link, 13. Pennar Palar Cauvery Link and 14. Polavaram Vijayawada Link. The map of the peninsular component is given below:

As to Himalayan Component, NWDA has completed the pre-feasibility studies of fourteen links in the Himalayan component. These include: 1. Manas-Sankosh-Tista – Ganga (MSTG) link, 2. Jogighopa-Tista-Farakka link, 3. Ganga-Damodar-Subernarekha link, 4. Subernarekha-Mahanadi link, 5. Farakka-Sunderbans link, 6. Gandak-Ganga link, 7. Ghaghara -Yamuna link, 8. Sarda-Yamuna link, 9. Yamuna-Rajasthan link, 10. Rajasthan-Sabarmati link, 11. Chunar- Sone Barrage link, 12. Sone dam-Southern tributaries of Ganga link, 13. Kosi- Ghaghara link and 14. Kosi-Mechi link. The feasibility Studies of Ghaghara-Yamuna Link and Sarda-Yamuna Link has been prepared. The map of the Himalayan component is given below:

Besides the above, Union Ministry of Water Resources has approved to identify Intra-State links in the States like Bihar and to prepare pre – feasibility / feasibility reports of these links by NWDA. The Government of Puducherry has send a proposal for one interstate link namely Pennaiyar – Sankarabarani link instead of intra state link proposal. The States Governments of Bihar, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Orissa, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Tamil Nadu have proposed intra-state proposals within their respective states. NWDA is preparing the pre – feasibility reports of the intra state links. The list of intra-state links is attached.

In Bihar, the proposed links include: 1. Kosi – Mechi, 2. Barh – Nawada, 3. Kohra – Chandravat (Lalbegi), 4. Burhi Gandak – None – Baya – Ganga Burhi Gandak 5.  Bagmati [Belwadhar]and 6. Kosi – Ganga. The pre-feasibility report of Kosi – Mechi, Kohra – Chandravat (Lalbegi) and Burhi Gandak – None – Baya – Ganga has been completed and sent to the state government. It shows that centre and the state government refuse to learn from the embankment disaster and drainage crisis in the Kosi basin.

In Rajasthan, there are two links proposed namely, Mahi – Luni link and Wakal – Sabarmati – Sei – West Banas – Kameri link. Is it irrational to suggest that centre and state government should learn its lessons from the flash floods of August 2006 in the usually drought prone Barmer district and desist from such endeavors?

In Jharkhand, the links include South Koel – Subernarekha, Sankh – South Koel and  Barkar – Damodar – Subernarekha. Their pre-feasibility report has been completed and sent to the state government. The centre and the state government have chosen to discard the lessons from the failure of the hydro projects in the Damodar valley. In Tamil Nadu, there is a proposal for Pennaiyar – Palar link.

In Maharashtra, there 15 links which include 1. Wainganga (Goshikurd) – Nalganga (Purna Tapi) [Wainganga – Western Vidarbha & Pranhita – Wardha links merged and extended through Kanhan – Wardha link], 2. Wainganga – Manjra Valley, 3. Upper Krishna – Bhima (system of Six links). 4. Upper Ghat – Godavari Valley, 5. Upper Vaitarna – Godavari Valley, 6. North Konkan – Godavari Valley, 7. Koyna – Mumbai city, 8. Sriram Sagar Project (Godavari) – Purna – Manjira, 9. Wainganga (Goshikurd) – Godavari (SRSP). 10. Middle Konkan – Bhima Valley, 11. Koyna – Nira, 12. Mulsi – Bhima, 13. Savithri – Bhima, 14. Kolhapur – Sangli – Sangola and 15. Riverlinking projects of Tapi basin and Jalgaon District. Clearly, centre and Maharashtra government has not learnt its lessons from disrupting Mithi river in Mumbai.

In Gujarat, the proposal of Damanganga – Sabarmati – Chorwad link is facing people’s resistance. Will the centre and the government pay heed?  In Orissa, the links included Mahanadi – Brahmani but its prefeasibility study concluded that it was not techno economically feasible. Other links in the state include Mahanadi – Rushikulya (Barmul Project) and Vamsadhara – Rushikulya (Nandini Nalla project).

Since 2005 a committee of environmentalists, social scientists and other experts on Interlinking of Rivers has been meeting infrequently at the whims and fancies of its chairman to deliberate on the impact of this project. The Committee was constituted by the Ministry of Water Resources, Government of India in December 2004. There are 14 members in the committee with two special invitees but given the conflict of interest in the Committee which is headed by the Secretary, Union Ministry of Water Resources it is subservient and with no independence of its own. It is high time the members from civil society resigned from it since their voices do not have any impact on the fate of the adverse environment impact project in question.

According to NCAER, the new aggregated cost is Rs 1, 25, 342.87 crore or 22.4 per cent lower than the earlier aggregate cost estimate of Rs 5, 60, 000 crore at 2002-03 prices. The study refers to Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), Tennessee Valley and Tennessee River in the USA and efforts at controlling floods, improving navigation, and producing electrical power and how Damodar valley development project in Jharkhand emulated facets of the TVA’s development but forgets to mention its disappointing non-performance. It refers to Indira Gandhi Canal project but fails to articulate its ecological and human cost. It mentions Colorado River Canal System in southwest US but ignores how its ecosystem is severely truncated and degraded by transbasin diversions to advocate ILR project and still claims to “oversee a water management regime based on a river basin approach.”

The ILR programme is aimed at providing additional irrigation in about 30 million hectares and net power generation capacity of about 20,000 to 25,000 MW.  These claims have been debunked by several experts.  As to mitigation of flood and drought to a certain extent, fishing at dams and reservoirs, they are mentioned in passing as “fringe benefit of programme. Thus, all claims of drought proofing, flood proofing and dilution of pollution through linking rivers as argued by the lawyer who filed the application 2002 is insincere, an exercise in sophistry and totally misplaced.

ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA) has been campaigning against this world’s biggest project since October 2002, when the then Chief Justice of India was misled into passing seemingly executive orders for its execution.

For Details: Gopal Krishna, ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA), Mb: 9818089660, E-mail: krishna2777@gmail.com

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