(Group Editor NBC)
The court's direction to the Supreme Court on linking rivers is fraught with danger. Has its impact on the environment been thought of? Why can't governments ensure effective rain harvesting methods? Why is no priority given to harnessing floodwaters? Why is not the building of deeper and larger reservoirs given priority? Nobody can dispute the fact that by directing the government to look at linking rivers, the Supreme Court has entered the domain of the executive. Further, how does it intend to resolve the disputes over water sharing?
All innovative ideas get stuck either due to Opposition parties or shortsightedness. Linking of rivers is a creative concept and will help in uniform distribution of water resources. It is true that it will affect biodiversity and upset the current equilibrium. But we should not forget that every cell in this universe carries the potential to adapt itself to new surroundings and re-establishes the equilibrium. Eminent environmentalists can be roped in to make the unstable transition short and controllable. If the ILR project is implemented effectively, it will lead to the growth of vegetation along the interlinked rivers. Uniform vegetation, in turn, will favor uniform rainfall. We can change the energy intensive project into labour driven project by integrating it with MGNREGS. Those raising a hue and cry against the project should read about the artificial palm islands in Dubai. We have already spent millions of rupees on desalination plants and, with increased demand, will have to spend more on them. The river linking project is perhaps the most ambitious one, as it will not only balance the drought- and flood-prone regions but will also help generate energy. The National Water Development Agency carried out a detailed survey on interlinking rivers in 1992. The project was to have the country segmented into neat components of inter-basin transfer of water, from surplus basins to deficit ones. The project, but for one point where a lift and significantly large storage is envisaged — In champalli on the upper reaches of the Godavari — is based on gravity. Therefore, the assertion that “moving waters across river basins cannot be achieved without energy-intensive heavy lifts and destructive modification of ecologically important landscapes. “Displacement” could be an argument against any change. In 1998, over 30,000 families migrated from Dharmapuri in Tamil Nadu because of acute water scarcity. India is rated by the UNDP as being water-stressed. Scientists argue that peninsular India is moving towards becoming a desert. Should this happen in the next 50 years, we will see migration that will make all African human disasters pale into insignificance.
The ILR project would involve diverting most rivers, whose waters are perceived to be flowing to the sea untapped. But it is a step that has huge ecological consequences. What would be the impact on mangrove belts and fish stock? Salt levels could rise. At a time when we are facing erratic weather patterns, possibly because of man's activities, do we know what could happen if we diverted rivers? Why tamper with nature? Any neat division between “surplus” and “deficit” areas becomes more of a problem in these days of climate change. Nature has its extremes, but considering the averages of long-term records, Rajasthan is more drought-prone, and Assam is more flood-prone. The case for linking rivers is based on averages, not extreme events.
The ILR Project, conceived decades ago as the “Garland Canal Scheme,” has remained in cold storage because of technical and ecological stumbling blocks. With water coming under the State government's control and inter-State river water disputes taking on ugly political overtones, the concept is difficult to implement. A government, which is unable to handle small people movements like the Narmada Bachao Andolan, would wither in the face of protests arising from such large projects. Also, ecological imbalance is the main factor in such a project. Water conservation projects in small areas should be the key to resolving water scarcity.