The DNA New Paper today had a fantastic news about how all the rivers of India can be connected to provide water in areas required by diverting the flood waters of one into the other. A fantastic read, given below but raises a few questions which I would like the world community to help answer, because just like air, water to is connected but finally at the Ocean. But if one looks closely at the estuaries, they have marine life unique to the confluence of the river that meets with the sea. How will by connecting the rivers, the aquatic life and the surrounding fauna & flora of the downstream get affected? We all understand that the Indian sub-continent has various soil types, each with its unique chemical composition. While having canals taking water to great distances for irrigation may not have had any long-term negative effect. If we link two rivers which may have different aquatic life, whether the intermixing would be positive or otherwise need to be studied and if studied reported about.
Abridged text from the DNA paper-
“The perennial problems of drought and flood which ravage the country will be a thing of the past if all major rivers are inter-linked. By inter-linking the rivers, what we do is to transfer the surplus flood waters from Brahmaputra Mahanadi, Ganga and Godavari to water deficient rivers in south India through a network of canals. This will help us in boosting our agricultural production, increase the forest cover and bring down pollution,” Prabhu told DNA. S Kalyanaraman, former director of Asian Development Bank, who undertook 20 years research on ILR said the project would help in generating 40,000 MW clean and green energy. “We can bring in nine crore acres of additional wetland into farming and this will benefit 45 cr people,” said Kalyanaraman.
The normal annual Indian surface water resources are about 68,969 Thousand Million Cubic feet (TMC). Out of this we use only 8,814 TMC, that is 13%. The remaining 87 per cent, (that is about 60,155 TMC), is wasted into the sea every year, say Natarajan and Kallolikar. “The value of one TMC of flood water let into sea in terms of paddy and pulses is about Rs32.5 crore. The total irrigation potential that can be created by utilizing the entire floodwater let into sea is 241 million ha, the production of foodgrain is 1,477 million tones (1,326 million tones of paddy plus 151 million tones of pulse) and the value of total flood water in terms of paddy and pulses is about Rs20 lakh crore (value of paddy is Rs 13 lakh crore and the value of pulse is Rs7 lakh crore) per annum. The value of food grains wasted in the last 61 years in the independent India is Rs1, 220 lakh crore,” Natarajan and Kallolikar said in the paper they submitted to the Planning Commission emphasizing the need to inter link the rivers. Natarajan said if the flood waters of Godavari in Andhra Pradesh is diverted to Mettur Dam in Tamil Nadu, the dam would get filled in ten hours. “Tamil Nadu’s entire irrigation requirements could be met with this water,” he said.
The Indian Space Research Organisation has drawn a blue print for implementing the project with the help of images.
Resonating my thoughts,on 5th March Mr. Subratha Sihna editor in the DNA News paper, wrote in the analysis this piece, which I think almost all who work with water must look at with a degree of seriousness.
Based on a Public Interest Litigation, a Supreme Court division bench in the early 2000s had directed the Centre to implement the controversial river linking proposal involving more than Rs500,000 crore (approximately $110 billion) without bypassing any of the essential procedures in the process by 2016. There was an unprecedented outcry against the proposal from civil society — including a representation to the prime minister by 50 citizens of national eminence. The proposal was put on hold. The present bench of the Supreme Court, in fact, has revived the ‘the instrumentalist vision’ to complete the process; with the caveat of setting up a high-powered committee to ‘implement’ the project.
In unsuitable, arid or semi-arid, agro-climatic regions, excessive water transfer and usage have caused irreversible land degradation. About three-fourth of prime agricultural was lost by water logging, salinity and erosion by 1980. These irreversibly degraded tracts include the command areas of Tapi, Mahi, Chambal, Tawa, and Narmada in western UP and Rajasthan, providing a frightening preview of river linking, whose major thrust is on transferring water into inappropriate terrain. Basically, the concept of surplus or deficit is alien to river basins. Each drop has its use in preserving the river regime and environmental health of the basin.
Fundamental objections to river linking:
1. Linking of rivers violates the natural laws governing the life support system, and natural dynamics; and discounts the bounties provided by river systems.
2. The loss of flood plains and spill basins by human interference has caused devastating floods. River linking shall enhance this situation.
3. Man-made dams, reservoirs, and artificial lakes that are to be project ingredients would rob the rivers of their energy potential.
4. In fact, stupendous energy would be needed for the rivers to jump over the natural water divides and topo-barriers.
5.Rainfall and water availability is regulated by the monsoons, resulting in a highly bimodal annual river flow and moisture regime with consequential seasonal lows (droughts) and highs (floods). River linking shall certainly aggravate both droughts and floods by superimposition of the situation in each of the linked rivers.
6. Such linkages could possibly be thought of in more temperate latitudes with a more homogeneous annual moisture/flow regime. However, the Soviet experience of river diversion has even then been catastrophic, resulting on the devastation of the Aral Sea.
7. A river is not a mere flow channel, but a holistic system encompassing the whole basin — water divide, catchment, valley and outflow point. Any alteration shall affect the whole system and even induce microclimatic changes.
8. Inestimable loss of natural biodiversity, wild cultivars and plant gene banks shall inevitably follow river linking to disrupting the regional food chain operation.
9. Monsoonal rainfall on the degraded catchments shall cause excessive siltation-related problems in the linking systems.
10. Careful scrutiny of the state of environmental health of various rivers should have been first made before clean rivers are linked very filthy rivers.
11.River linking shall inevitably lead to an alteration of the seasonal water availability pattern; and the possibility of upsetting the evapo-transpiration balance.
12. An inevitable change in the cropping pattern from excessively irrigated lands after river-linking shall cause a major increase in methane and other gases that contribute to global warming.
13. Land degradation shall also be inescapably aggravated.
14. The colossal estimated cost will surely jeopardise the national economy for decades and force diversion of funds from the more essential needs of the vast majority of rural poor.
15. The inter-state and international ramifications of shared riparian systems would certainly open the floodgates for a civil war situation and serious discord with India’s neighbours.
Not only is any such proposal for inter-basin transfers totally repugnant to all natural and economic logic, but shall alter the subcontinent’s geographical configuration. In the ultimate analysis, the proposal shall signal the death knell of our river systems that provide the principal source of sustenance; and encompass social, cultural and religious traditions.
The Beneficiaries of River Linking:
The politically important consideration for drawing up the river linking plan was the emergence of major national and transnational industries and rapid urbanization in many of the ‘low water availability’ natural regions of the west and south. It was purported also to help the commercial farming lobby for sugarcane. A case of ‘mortgaging the nation’s future for a miniscule affluent population.