THE INTER-LINKING OF RIVERS: QUESTIONING THE SCIENTIFIC VALIDITY OF PROJECT

Kalyan Rudra


Abstract

The history of development is the story of struggle to achieve human security at the expense of ecological security. The aridity, human thirst, water-control and political power have always been intricately related. Time and again, water has been the means of consolidating power in the human society. In the beginning of the new millennium, water has become a major issue of the Indian politics. Our country is known to be the gift of its unique river systems. The rivers have been flowing along the lines, which are unquestionably the best possible routes of flowing water. But now there is a plan alter the courses of rivers. The idea is to modify the delicately balanced natural system and introduce a controlled hydraulic system to combat the twin problems of flood and drought. The 174 billion cu.m. of water would be diverted from the so called excess areas to the deficit areas to irrigate 35 million hectares of land. This is 25.22 per cent of the utilizable surface water of the country. This water will be diverted largely from the Ganga-Brahmaputra Basin (GBD).The per capita available water in the Ganga basin is about 1473 cu.m and this is less than the national average (1869 cu.km.). Still Government is planning to divert water from the Ganga basin to facilitate water-intensive agriculture in the drought prone areas.

While there is nothing called excess in the perfectly balanced hydrological system, the proponents of this mega project identify the monsoon freshet in the GBD as excess and thus ‘wasted’. They have denied the validity of community based water-harvesting plan that would have been eco-friendly and cost-effective but declared a crusade against the Nature.  The Indian agriculture presently consumes about 83% of the utilized water in the country. The introduction of water intensive crops replacing the drought resistant one has aggravated the water crisis. While the official storehouses are engrossed with 620 million tones of food grains, about 250 million people below poverty line go hungry! The paper critically reviews the viability of the project from ecological and economic standpoint.


1.         Introduction

“To write history without putting any water in it is to leave out a large part of the story. Human experience has not been so dry as that”.

– Donald Worster (1985), Rivers of Empire.

The history of the human civilization is the story of struggle between Man and Nature, represented as interaction-response-interaction, where Man never achieved absolute sovereignty but continued to alter the Nature. The water played a critical role in shaping the civilization. It quenched the thirst, helped to flourish agriculture, designed the layout of the city or village, set the limit of expansion, delineated the boundary of the country, and rendered the gateway for trade and commerce. The contaminated water also spread diseases leading to deaths of millions of people or the onrushing floods ravaged civilizations. The non-availability of water left extensive parts of the surface, deserted. The aridity, human thirst, water-control and political power are thus intimately related.

In the beginning of the new millennium, water has become a major issue of the Indian politics or means of consolidating power. The water-scarcity, not the abundance, deepens our anxiety. One-sixth of the country is declared as drought prone but almost one-third of the country suffers from acute water shortage in every summer and not less than 270 million people struggle for their livelihood in a parched condition. It is officially admitted that 40 million hectares of land or about 12 per cent area of the country with a population of 60 million is prone to annual flooding. The structural measures like dams and embankments have failed to ensure protection against flood, but have rather aggravated the situation in many areas (Agarwal and Narain, 1991, Mishra, 2002).  Water has started to play a pivotal role in the electoral politics of our country. The politicians, irrespective of their colour and belief, leave no stone unturned, to exploit the situation. This reminds us that  “Control over water has again and again provided an effective means of consolidating power within the human groups-led, that is, to the assertion by some people of power over other”(Worster, 1985).

Our country is known to be the gift of its unique river systems. The rivers have been flowing along the lines, which are unquestionably the best possible routes of flowing water. But the proposed plan is to large scale inter-basin transfer water to satisfy the human need as if water has nothing to do in the ecosystem. The idea is to modify the delicately balanced natural system and introduce a structurally controlled hydraulic system to combat the twin problems of flood and drought.

Fig.1

India is bestowed with 4000 cu km of fresh water annually, from precipitation. Excluding the evaporation, infiltration and interception losses, the available surface water amounts to 1869 cu.km. – 37 per cent of which (i.e. 690 cu.km.) can be utilized for beneficial purposes in addition to 432 cu.km. of replenishable ground water. Thus the total water available to meet our demand is estimated to be 1122 cu.km. (India, 2003). The annual per capita available water in India has steadily declined from 5177cu.m. in 1951 to about 1820 cu.m. in 2001 and continues to dwindle further with the uninterrupted growth of population.( See table I and II ). The total demand in this country will be equivalent to utilizable fresh water resource by the middle of the 21st.century (Bandyopadhyay et al, 2002). The official projection of demand of water in various sectors shows that the agriculture will continue to be the largest consumer of water( 85%) even in 2010 whiles the demand for drinking and industry would be 6.65 and 6.45 per cent respectively.  The paradox of the Indian water management is that, Cherrapunji (Meghalaya), which gauges highest rainfall in the world (more than 11,000 mm annually), now faces the problem of water shortage for six months in a year while Alwar  (Rajasthan) in spite of being located in the arid west, has achieved remarkable success in rainwater harvesting. Despite ever increasing investment and expenditure in water management, both the flood and drought prone areas have been expanding. The Government admits that 190 million people in this country still do not have access to safe drinking water. Again, 80 per cent of the children suffer from water borne diseases and 0.70 million of them die each year. Moreover, 44 million people suffer from diseases related to poor quality of water (Shiva et al, 2002).

Source: Ministry of Water Resource (Govt. of India).

WATER INTENSIVE AGRICULTURE:

Indian agriculture consumes 83 per cent of the annually utilized water while the world’s average is 69 per cent only. The acute food crisis in early 1960s prompted the Government of India to introduce high yielding techniques in agriculture. Substantial increase in food production was achieved, especially that of wheat was popularly described as the “green revolution”. But the grass on the other side was not so green. The modified high yielding seeds were water-intensive, demanding several times more water than the traditional variety of seeds. The expansion of irrigation, application of chemical fertilizer and insecticide also played an important role in the increase of food production from 51 million tonnes in 1950-51 to 209 million tonnes in 1999-2000. The production declined to 196 million tonnes in 2000-2001 (Hindu, 2002). The target of the government is to raise production of food grain around 350 million tonnes by the year 2025 AD.  The recent decline in production might be due to severe drought in extensive parts of the country. The irrigated area expanded from 19.50 million hectares to 95 million hectares during preceding five decades of the plan period. The National Water Development Plan is optimistic to provide additional irrigation benefits of 35 million hectares i.e. 25 million hectares from surface water and 10 million hectares by increased use of ground water over and above the ultimate irrigation potential of 140 million hectares from all projects. The arithmetic expansion of irrigated area does ensure increase in yield as the yield of cereals per hectare in this country is far below the international standard. It seems to be a paradox that while the official godowns are glutted with 62 million tonnes of food grains, about 250 million people below poverty line go hungry everyday! The lack of a good grain distribution system thus affects the food security of the country. The government however, does not look concerned for the much-needed equity of distribution. The irony is that even with a larger population to feed from a much less arable land compared to that of India, China manages to produces 13 percent more foodgrains per capita (Bandyopadhyay and Perveen, 2003). Our country also shows little promise of increasing food grain productivity by mid of the twenty-first century. Whilst in experimental farms yield per hectare has already touched 6000 kg per ha, yield levels of only 4000 kg per hectare in irrigated land, has been taken as the basis for making projection for food crop production in 2050 (NCIWRDP, 1999)

The demand of water in the agricultural sector also continues to increase phenomenally. West Bengal, which was described as having areas of excess water in the colonial documents, now suffers from shortage of water, especially during lean months. The situation has deteriorated after the introduction of green revolution technology in agriculture. The supply-demand deficit presently stands at about 38 per cent.  The production of one kilogram of dry variety paddy demands 3800 liters of water. The cultivation of such high yielding paddy in one hectare of land consumes so much water that can quench the thirst of 6700 people of a village for the whole of the year. The boro or dry variety paddy is cultivated in West Bengal in about 1455 thousand hectares of land and the annual production is reported to be 4415 thousand tonnes. This system of production annually consumes 1.78 million .ha.m. of water that is more than the total utilisable ground water resource of the State as a whole (Rudra,2003).

It was this water-guzzling agriculture that brought a total change in the water management scenario in the Indian agriculture (Shiva, 2002). The construction of high dams and reservoirs were once thought to be the solution to the problem. But the large dams were proved inadequate to meet the demand of the water intensive crops. The dams that were once thought to be temples of development gradually lost its sanctity in the minds of a large number of people. The drought prone areas of the country are traditionally involved in dry farming and pastoralism. The introduction of water-intensive agriculture in this dry would impair the existing ecosystem. Even in the wet areas, the high yielding agriculture has posed many problems. This led to the initiation of a new era that witnessed indiscriminate exploitation of ground water and the privatization of this natural resource. In the rural areas, established shallow or deep pumps in the midst of their fields and started exploiting ground water to sell it to the poor and marginal farmers. There is no official regulation to restrict this assault on the Nature.  The poor and ignorant farmers were thus compelled to buy water that remained stored beneath their own fields. Excessive withdrawal of groundwater led to the contamination of aquifer with arsenic or fluoride. The ecological cost of such misdirected water management system has never been properly estimated. The desiccation of the Aral Sea and massive ecological damage of western USA are two classic examples highlighting the consequences of modifying the natural hydrological systems. But the former NDA Government of India did not care to learn lessons from these experiences. The wrong application of temperate-country technology of water management was again slated to be adopted in our tropical hydro-climate in the name of inter-linking of rivers – a massive project that threatens to belittle all engineering feats in the world by its sheer dimension.

RESURRECTION OF A DORMANT PROPOSAL:

Dr. K.L. Rao (1975) first mooted the idea of inter-basin transfer of water about three decades back when he proposed excavation of Ganga-Cauvery and Brahmaputra-Ganga link canals. In 1980 Captain D. Dastur put forward a rather emotional scheme of linking peninsular rivers by a garland canal and also the Himalayan rivers by another canal.  He further proposed to connect the Himalayan and Peninsular components with two pipelines, one through Delhi another through Patna. But both the proposals of Rao and Dastur were shelved on technical and financial grounds. The National Water Development Agency established in 1982 had been exploring the feasibility of inter-basin transfer of water during the last two decades. The main objective was the transfer of

Fig.2

water from Ganga-Brahmaputra basin to the river basins of western, central and southern India. The new Water Policy adopted in 2002 proposed to divide the country into several water-zones with a view to the export of water from ‘surplus’ to ‘deficit’ zones. The President of India in his address to the Nation on the eve of Independence Day 2002 urged for the inter-linking of rivers to meet the challenge of combating the twin menaces of flood and drought. It is important to keep in mind that 2002 was the year of drought. The total monsoon rainfall was about 19 per cent less than the average and the rainfall in July was 49 per cent less than the preceding years (SANDRAP, 2003). It was with reference to the Presidential address, a writ petition was filed in the apex court and the division bench headed by the then Chief Justice gave the landmark judgment on October 31, 2002, suggesting the Central Government to complete the networking of rivers within a decade. The court opined that “ the project will not only give relief to the drought prone areas but will also be an effective flood control measure and would be a form of water harvesting which is being rightly propagated by the Union of India and all the States”. However, date of completion of the project was subsequently extended to the end of 2016. The NDA Government accordingly formed a Task Force under the Chairmanship of Suresh Prabhu, to do the needful. The Task Force was asked to explore:

  1. All possible means to comply the extremely rigid time schedule directed by the Supreme Court,
  2. Management of huge capital that would be required for the execution of the plan
  3. To achieve the consensus among states and neighboring countries.

However, the project is ambitious to achieve following four objectives:

  1. To augment the irrigation potential by 35 million hectare( 140 Mha to 175 Mha) which would increase the production of food for our growing population;
  2. To fulfil the growing need of water for the people( the domestic and industrial needs of water is expected to grow steeply by 300% to 400% in coming decades);
  3. To generate about 34000MW of additional power through hydro-electricity to meet the increasing need of energy in the country;
  4. To facilitate transportation in the country through inland waterways.

THE PROJECT AT A CRITICAL GLANCE:

The National Water Policy (2002) was adopted to ensure food security keeping in view the ever              increasing population that is expected to reach a level of around 139 crore by 2025AD. The Govt. of India has declared that that production of food grain will have to be raised to about 350 million tonnes to feed this additional population. But this seems to be a gross over-estimation because the present population of the country being 103 crore (2001) is being fed with the annual production 208 million tonnes (1999-2000). So the additional food grain requirement of 142 million tonnes by the year 2025 for the 36 crore of additional population cannot be justified. But the Ministry of Water Resource depends on this inflated data and make the future plan water management.

  • The availability of water resource in India is spatially uneven and temporally skewed. The project is optimistic to modify the spatial and temporal inequality of the available water resource within the country and proposes to introduce a controlled water management system. It denies the basic ecological principle that no component in nature is ‘excess’ or ‘wasted’ and every drop of rain water plays vital role in the ecosystem.
  • The 174 billion cu.m. of water would be diverted from the so called excess areas to the deficit areas to irrigate 35 million hectares of land. This is 25.22 per cent of the utilizable surface water of the country or more than 98 per cent of the combined live storage capacity of all reservoirs in India.  The 14 canals with nine major dams are supposed to connect the Himalayan rivers while 27 dams and 30 link canals will regulate the flow of peninsular rivers. But dams especially those in Himalaya may induce earthquake as the area is tectonically unstable.
  • The plan is also to quench the thirst of people living in 101 districts and five metropolitan cities.
  • The hydel power generation target is 34 million KW. But it does not take into account the power that would be required to lift water across the topographic barriers.  The power required for such lifting may be greater than that which is to be generated.
  • The project also has the ‘pious intention’ to create 37 million man-years of employment and increase the GDP growth by four per cent.
  • The estimated cost of this countrywide project is Rs.560000 crores. This is twice the revenue that Government of India currently earns in a year or is about ten times of the total expenditure that Government has incurred for expansion of irrigation during post-independence era. If we take into account the usual cost escalation, the ultimate cost of the project would exceed the GDP of the country and the financial management would become an impasse.
  • The ecological impacts of the project have not been properly assessed so far. It is said that 79,292 hectares of prime forest may be submerged under the proposed reservoirs of the scheme. But this seems to be a gross underestimation as a single project like Sardar Sarovar is going to destroy 14000 hectares of forest. We are afraid that a large number of people are going to be evicted for the sake of so-called development though the official document holds the number at 4.50 lakh only.
  • The efficiency of the existing dam-canal network is around 35 per cent only. The water-holding capacity of all reservoirs is diminishing at a pace faster than the anticipated rate. The areas affected by water logging and salinization till 1991 were reportedly 2.46 million hectares and 3.30 million hectares respectively (NCIWRDP,1999). The problem would be aggravated further with the excavation network of new canals and the natural drainage system would be largely interrupted.
  • Since the excavation of a canal having a discharging capacity of more than 1400 cumecs (50000 cusecs.) is hardly possible on technical grounds, the inter-linking can’t be a solution to the flood. The peak discharge of the Ganga at Farakka and Brahmaputra at Pandu were measured to be 75900 cumecs (in September 1998) and 72726 cumecs (in August 1962) respectively (Rudra, 2000; Goswami and Das, 2003). So withdrawal of 1400 cumecs of water would not moderate the flood in the lower reach. So the concerned water resource experts do not find any logic to justify the proposed inter-linking of rivers (Singh, 2003).
  • The drought management can be done locally, not by importing water from far ends. There is no village in this country that cannot meet its basic drinking and cooking needs through rainwater harvesting. The key words should be “catch the catchment” as was advised by the former Prime Minister in the meeting of the National Water Resource Council on the April 1, 2002. It is not only the scanty rainfall that causes the water crisis but also the technological failure to conserve water. The Cherrapunji and Alwar are two classic examples of ‘scarcity in abundance’ and ‘solution in scarcity’ respectively. Instead of opting out for the highly profligate way of supplying domestic water needs which involves centralised collection at far away points and pipeline-distribution systems, as prescribed in the interlinking project, harvesting and community participation in extensive and intensive local water harvesting or ‘making water every body’s business’ needs to be promoted as the only solution to drought (Agarwal et.al 2001).
  • The Governments of Assam, Kerala and Bihar have already declined to cooperate in the project. The matter relating to water supplies, irrigation and canals, drainage and embankments, water storage and waterpower have been included in the State list (i.e. list- II) of the Indian Constitution. But this authority of the State Government is subject to power of the Central Government mentioned in the entry 56 of list-I, that authorised the Union to regulate and control inter-state rivers in the public interest. The Parliament has the power to legislate on the development and control of the inter-state river. Thus the constitution authorizes the Union to undertake any project like interlinking of rivers without any consent of the states. But it would be difficult to achieve hydro-solidarity among the states when the project would be commissioned. A series of disputes like over water like that between Karnataka and Tamilnadu, Punjab and Hariyana would emerge leading to strife and discontent between and amongst states.
  • The international rules relating to management of transboundary river do not permit unilateral withdrawal of water by a country without any regard to the ecology and environment of the neighbouring country. So Bangladesh has enough ground of resentment. 

CHANGING THE HYDRAULIC REGIME:

The fluvial system, be it global or local, is an integral part of the hydrological cycle. The river basin is a dynamic system, which continuously transfers water and sediment in the downstream direction. It maintains a dynamic equilibrium in respect of its basin area, number of tributaries, slope, sediment load and discharge. The geometry of the meander is proportional to the discharge flowing along the river. The wavelength and amplitude of meandering pattern changes with the variable discharge. The equilibrium of the river is so delicate that any intervention impairs the dynamic functioning of the whole system.

The proponent of the inter-linking of rivers often draws the analogy from the linking of national highways, which are static man-made structures on the surface, having no semblance with a dynamic natural system like the river. As connecting one artery with the other in the human body may cause the death of the person concerned, connecting one river basin with the other is likely to invite ecological disaster.

The unmanageable problem relating to such a project would be the crucial sediment management. The Ganga-Brahmaputra system carries more than 1670 million tonnes of sediment annually (Milliman and Meade, 1983). Since the construction of the Farakka Barrage in 1971, the mighty Ganga, being impounded, has dropped a substantial portion of sediment load upstream of the barrage. The river has swept away many villages from the left bank and has formed a mighty bend. Now the flow of the river is no longer co-axial to the barrage and the bays along the northern side have virtually become defunct. Even the possibility of outflanking the barrage by the river cannot be ruled out (Rudra, 2000). The proponents of the inter-linking of rivers are reluctant to learn from this experience. They have proposed to inter-link all major rivers of West Bengal and the main objective is diverting water towards south India. The proposed canals are 1).Koshi–Mechi. 2).Brahmaputra-Ganga. 3).Ganga-Damodar-Subarnarekha. 4). Ganga–Sundarbans. The Koshi-Mechi canal is designed to mitigate the flood problem of North Bihar. But the Mechi river is so clogged with boulders and pebbles that it would not be able to accommodate any additional discharge. The induced discharge is likely to aggravate the problem of flood in Mechi basin. It would be more delicate to link Brahmaputra and Ganga. The proposed Brahmaputra-Ganga link through the North Bengal Plains would require interception of no less than fifty south flowing rivers and that would require construction of a series of aqueducts. Such massive interventions into the river regime would impair the delicate hydrological balance of North Bengal. The execution of the project would require consensus with the neighbouring Countries especially Bhutan and Bangladesh. The project is bound to have many impacts on the lower Ganga-Brahmaputra distributaries and Bangladesh has accordingly already expressed its anxiety over the project in the 35th Meeting of the Indo-Bangladesh River Valley Commission recently held in New Delhi. The international rule does not permit unilateral withdrawal of water from a river that is shared by two countries. The sharing of water must be proportional to the areas occupied by respective countries and population living thereon. The use of water should be rational, equitable and beneficial. The rule does not approve any project that may impair the environment of the neighbouring country.

The proposal to augment the lean months’ flow at Farakka was explored in the Indo-Bangladesh agreement in 1996. It was decided to link Sankosh with the Ganga. The 141km. long Sankosh-Teesta link and extension of the same through already existing 26 km long Teesta –Mahananda link canal would intercept 46 south flowing rivers en route. The 22 tea gardens covering 530 hectares of land in addition to 770 hectare of prime forest might be destroyed during the excavation of canal. Moreover the flow along this canal would be against the gravitational pull and water would be required to be lifted by about 24 to 33 metres. But the canal has not yet been excavated. Now a longer canal named Manas-Sankosh-Teesta-Ganga (MSTG), running almost along the route of the former canal will be excavated under the interlinking project. We are afraid that the impacts would be equally damaging.  The Ganga – Sundarbans and the Ganga- Damodar-Subarnarekha would have a common route for about 300 km. along the West Bank of the Bhagirathi.  One branch would be extended southwestward towards the Subanarekha and intercept all east flowing tributaries to the Bhagirathi. The other branch would flow straight southward and ultimately discharge into the Bay of Bengal. The Ganga-Sundarban canal is a misnomer as the famous mangrove forest lies on the eastern littoral tract while, the canal is proposed along the west bank of the Bhagirathi. The other branch of the canal would have to negotiate the undulating Rarh plateau of West Bengal while linking the Damodar with Subarnarekha.

In the deltaic tract, rivers frequently change their courses. This is a natural process that governs sediment and nutrient distribution during the floods. The existing dams and barrages of the Ganga basin have to a great extent intercepted the process of sediment transfer. The proposed inter-linking would further interrupt this natural distribution system and thereby impair the existing ecosystem. The rivers would significantly alter the present geometry of meanders and riparian settlements are likely to be threatened by the gnawing rivers.

MYTH OF EXCESS WATER:

In contravention to the law of nature that there is nothing excess in its perfectly balanced systems, the Government of India has decided to divert “excess water” from the Ganga-Brahmaputra basin to the arid West and parched South India. The Ganges-Brahmaputra-Barak basin is endowed with more than 62 per cent of the nation’s water resource, but its temporal distribution is extremely skewed. More than 80 per cent total annual discharge flows during the three monsoon months of July-September. The Ganga basin drains about 26 per cent of the Indian landmass and water resource potential of the basin is 525 cu.km. The Ganga basin in India is currently the home of 356.8 million population. The average density of 413/km2 compared to about 256.3/km2 for the whole of India, indicates a very high level of demand generation on the basin water resources (NCIWRDP, 1999). The per capita available water is about 1473 cu.m and this is less than the national average (1820 cu.km.). Still Government is planning to divert water from the Ganga basin. The Brahmaputra basin in India covers only 7.7 per cent of the national territory and enriched with 537.3 cu.km of water resource. But per capita available water in this part of the nation is strikingly as high as 18417 cu.m. But it is not denied in the official record of the Government of India that out of 690 cu.km. of utilizable surface water resource the Ganga-Brahmaputra basin carries only 40% while the share of all other basins is 60%. The Ganga basin being the home of about 700 million people has been suffering from acute water-stress during lean months.

Fig.3

It cannot be ignored that Bangladesh too depends largely on the Brahmaputra water resource.  Consideration of the population of Bangladesh would further drastically reduce the per capita availability of water in the Brahmaputra basin. The basin is endowed with 41 per cent of India’s hydro-power potential and only three per cent of it has so far been exploited (Goswami and Das, 2003). The under-exploited water and power resource of the Brahmaputra basin now appears to be very lucrative to the Planners of India. But any withdrawal of water from GBB needs prior consensus with Bangladesh. The issue of sharing Ganga water has always been delicate relating to Indo-Bangladesh relationship. The lean months’ flow at Farakka remains far below the threshold limit required for meeting the demand of both the countries (Table III).

Table III

Indo-Bangladesh Sharing of the Ganga waters 1996.

Time Avg.flow at Farakka (1949-1988) Share of India Share of Bangladesh
Jan 1-10 107516 40000 67516
11-20 97673 40000 57673
21-31 90154 40000 50154
Feb 1-10 86323 40000 46323
11-20 82859 40000 42859
21-28 79106 40000 39106
Mar 1-10 74419 39419 35000
11-20 68971 33931 35000
21-31 54688 35000 29688
Apr 1-10 63180 28180 35000
11-20 62633 35000 27633
21-30 60992 25990 35000
May 1-10 67351 35000 32351
11-20 73590 38590 35000
21-31 81854 40000 41854

(Figures in Cusecs)

Bangladesh has already rejected the proposal of the excavation of Brahmaputra-Ganga link canal through its territory to augment the flow at Farakka. Now the second alternative of aligning the link canal through the North Bengal plain is being explored. The Government without any regard to ecology and international relationship has accepted this proposal.

This seems to be the declaration of crusade against the nature and many Scientists believe that the proponents of the project are going to invite an ecological disaster that may mortgage the generations to come. The idea of excess water in any river basin is an unmixed myth because the peak discharge flushes the sediment load that is deposited in the distributaries during lean months. It is further believed by the modern River-Scientists that flood is not necessarily the evil but is a natural hydrological event that restores the ecological balance of the delta. The modern theory of flood management does not address structural measures but rather emphasises on community based disaster preparedness. The CBDP includes early warning, identification of flood shelter, ensuring the drinking water during flood, conservation of food and medicine, changing crop calendar in low-lying areas and finally preparedness for rescue-relief-rehabilitation.

The freshets of the Monsoon in the Ganga-Brahmaputra delta perform the twin ecological functions of recharging the ground water and combating the saline intrusion from the Sea. The sweet and brackish water regime of the delta is so juxtaposed that such a massive intervention in the fluvial regime would impair the entire ecosystem. The big question is that whether water can really be transferred to the parched areas? The existing canal systems in the lateritic tract of West Bengal absorbs as high as 66% of water and the tail end of the command area hardly receive any irrigation water during lean months when demand is at its peak. Had this been the case of West Bengal where soil and air carry much moisture, the loss of water in parched area would naturally be much higher. In view of monumental cost of the project to the tune of Rs.560, 000 crores and inevitable cost escalation, the water, if reaches the tail end at all, would remain beyond the affordability of resource-poor farmers. The National Water Policy clearly stated that “… that the water charges for various uses should be fixed in such a way that they cover at least the operation and maintenance charges of providing the service initially and a part of capital costs subsequently.” The former Prime Minister himself admitted in his speech at the meeting of the National Water Resource Council that the “community is the rightful custodian of water.” He further added “Technologies and methods are available today whereby the agriculture sector could cut its water needs by ten to fifty percent, industries by forty to ninety percent and cities by thirty to thirty-five percent without any sacrifice of economic output or quality of life.” But Suresh Prabhu, the former Chairman of the task force, did not care about the earlier advice of the then Prime Minister and was keen to take up the project of inter-linking of rivers on a war footing. The President of India and the apex court were not fractious on this issue. The stage was set to convert the natural resource to a commodity.

The NDA Government is now replaced by UPA but this does not ensure the change in the policy relating to water. The National Common Minimum Programme proclaimed that “the UPA government will make a comprehensive assessment of the feasibility of linking the rivers of the country starting with the southbound rivers”.The memorandum of understanding between Uttarpradesh and Madhyapradesh regarding Ken-Betwa link has already been signed. So the revised water policy, if any may be like ‘old wine in new bottle’.

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  • Shiva, V. Bhar,R. H. Jafri, A.H. Jalees, K. (2002): Corporate Hijack of Water. Navadanya, New Delhi. P.3.
  • Singh, B. ( 2003):  A Big Dream of Little Logic. Hindustan Times March 09, 2003, Kolkata p.11.
  • Supreme Court of India (2002): Unpublished Record of Proceedings(31.10 2002).

Pic : India TV

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