The perception that the ambitious project for interlinking of rivers would lead to reduction in floods and cater to drought-prone areas in the country is a “flawed concept”, according to environmentalists and hydrologists.

Noted environmentalist and water expert Vandana Shiva told The Sunday Guardian, “The project for interlinking of rivers does not take climate change into account. In today’s world, we are witnessing a big climate change phenomenon where even deserts are getting flooded and this aspect is being ignored by the project. It is an ecologically and hydrologically faulty concept.”

Shiva said that during monsoon, almost all the rivers in India are flooded, which is “what we saw in Kerala”. “When all rivers in India are flooded during the monsoon season, how will we be able to take water from one flooded river to the other? What purpose will it achieve?” she questioned.

Himanshu Thakkar, another environmentalist and hydrologist, echoed the same logic, maintaining that water from a flooded river cannot be linked to another flooded river and if this is done, can lead to larger floods. “Right now, both the Cauvery and Godavari rivers are flooded and if these two rivers are linked, how can floods be managed?” Thakkar asked. He further said that despite the Cauvery being considered water deficient, all the dams in the river are now full; they started being full in June itself. “What needs to be done is to protect the degradation of the catchment area in the river basins so that these catchments can hold more water when they are being recharged during the monsoon, rather than implement an ill-thought out project like interlinking of rivers,” Thakkar said.

The Ministry of Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation has envisaged 30 projects for linking of rivers in India—16 of Peninsular rivers and 14 from the Himalayan component—to transfer water from the water “surplus” river basins to the water “deficit” river basins.

However, none of the projects have yet seen the light of day, though the concept was mooted from the days of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government at the Centre. Sources in the Ministry have said that the states are not agreeing to the modalities of the project and this is the reason for the long delay. For example, it is proposed by the Ministry to link—termed the “mother link”—the Mahanadi and Godvari rivers, both considered “water surplus”, to nine other rivers in the South, to tackle the water deficiency of several rivers, but the governments of Odisha, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh do not agree to the fact that these river basins are “surplus”.

The Ken-Betwa interlinking project, which was to take off in December last year, is stuck again due to disagreement between the Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh governments. This is the only river interlinking project which is likely to see the light of day as most of the work on this project has been completed.

Himanshu Thakkar said: “Most of the projects for interlinking are in the phase of feasibility report study for years; this is because none of the state governments agree that their river basins are water surplus. Hydrologically, only the Brahmaputra basin is water surplus; the rest of the river basins in India are considered water deficit at most times of the year.”

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