NEW DELHI: The Centre is adopting a realistic approach towards the ambitious project of interlinking of rivers by focusing on only five river links across the country, instead of 30 considered earlier.

The project was initiated and given a push by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government with an objective to manage water resources effectively in the country by linking rivers by a network of reservoirs and canals, thus reducing the problems of both persistent floods and water shortages. It is being carried out under the watch of the National Water Development Agency (NWDA), under the Ministry of Jalshakti.

While work on these five projects is underway, the Ken-Betwa river project is almost ready to be finalised. There are a few technicalities left and the MoU for the project is likely to be signed between Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh in three months.

Speaking to The Sunday Guardian, Sriram Vedire, advisor to the Union Ministry for Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation (now Ministry of Jalshakti), said the detailed project report (DPR) was ready and actual work was likely to start next year. Vedire is also a member of the Task Force for Interlinking of Rivers (ILR).

The project, it is to be noted, has received all statutory compliances. However, there is a small issue over the sharing of water during the lean (or the non-monsoon) season, which the Centre believes, would be resolved soon.

Vedire said the DPRs are ready for four other river-linking projects. These are: Godavari-Cauveri (Grand Anicut), Damanganga-Pinjal, Par-Tapi-Narmada, and Parbati-Kalisindh-Chambal.

Initially, as many as 30 links were considered for the project—14 links involving the Himalayan component and 16 from the Peninsular component. However, pre-feasibility reports were prepared for all the links, followed by feasibility reports. However, the Narendra Modi government is adopting a realistic approach by just focusing on the five links, whose DPRs are now ready, and leaving out those which are non-viable or unrealistic.

The Ken-Betwa linking project, at an estimated cost of Rs 28,000 crore, involves the construction of a 77-metre high and 2.031-metre long composite dam across Ken river near village Daudhan in Chhatarpur district of Madhya Pradesh. Once completed, the dam is expected to provide irrigation facility to a 606,980 hectare area, drinking water facility for 1.4 million people and generation of 78-MW hydropower. Water will be transferred through a 221-km-long link canal, which will be constructed along the left bank of the Ken river.

Though the ILR project got initial push from the Vajpayee government during his 1999-2004 tenure, the UPA I and II governments (2009-14) did not take any interest. In fact, Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi said in 2009 that the entire idea of interlinking of rivers was dangerous and that it would have severe environmental implications. One of the UPA Cabinet Ministers, Jairam Ramesh said the idea was a “disaster”.

The National Water Development Agency (NWDA) has received 47 proposals so far of intra-state links from nine states—Maharashtra, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Odisha, Bihar, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Chhattisgarh. The successful completion of these projects will lead to a reduction in disaster during floods, improved irrigation facilities, employment generation in rural agriculture, and increase in exports and decrease in migration from villages.

Sources said there is a need for a proper legal mechanism to resolve inter-state and Centre-state issues in ILR projects. “River interlinking projects envisage that the surplus water available in Himalayan rivers be transferred to the areas where water supply is not adequate in Peninsular India. However, huge quantities of water from several Peninsular rivers drain unutilised into the sea, and river interlinking projects are seriously looking at transfer of this water to water-deficit areas of Peninsular India,” a Ministry official said.

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