New Delhi: The interlinking of rivers, one of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s dream projects and one that found mention in the NDA’s 2019 Lok Sabha election manifesto, seems to be going nowhere.
Even the first proposed river linking project, the Ken-Betwa, which was conceptualised in the 1980s, is in a limbo. The preparatory work for the project is at an advanced stage but there are differences between the two states involved — Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh — over water sharing during the non-monsoon season, apart from funding issues and regulatory clearances.
To make matters worse, five state governments, including Madhya Pradesh and the BJP-ruled Karnataka, have written to the Union Jal Shakti ministry stating that they oppose river interlinking in their respective states, ThePrint has learnt.
The other three include Telangana, Odisha and Kerala.
While the river interlinking project was conceptualised in the 1980s, it was under the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government that it began to be implemented.
A National Perspective Plan for water transfer from surplus basins to water-deficit ones was formulated in August 1980. The National Water Development Agency, which had identified 30 such river links, began working on four priority links.
But it was during the Vajpayee era that the river-interlinking program got a big push.
The Vajpayee government decided to take up the Ken-Betwa river-interlinking project first and began the groundwork for it.
Five state govt’s including MP say no to river-linking
Apart from the other issues, the Jal Shakti Ministry has had to contend with opposition from states.
Ministry officials said that so far, Telangana, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala and the BJP-governed Karnataka have written to the Jal Shakti ministry opposing linking projects in their respective states.
The Kerala assembly had last August passed a resolution against taking up the Pamba-Achankovil-Vaippar river linking project.
Odisha has expressed its inability to go ahead with the Mahanadi (Manibhadra)–Godavari link that involves four other states: Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Chhattisgarh.
The Odisha government contends that the project will result in large-scale submergence in the state.
Telangana has similarly cited the water balance at the Inchampalli dam site in the Godavari basin as the reason for its opposition to the Godavari (Inchampalli) -Krishna link project.
The BJP-ruled Karnataka has written that it will not implement the Netravati-Hemavati link as it wants to utilise the Netravati water according to its own plan.
Madhya Pradesh has also opposed the Parbati-Kalisindh-Chambal (PKC) link proposed by the National Water Development Authority.
“The MP government has informed the ministry that it has taken up two important components of the PKC link — Mohanpura multipurpose project and Kundaliya dam — as major irrigation projects for its own requirements,” said a senior ministry official, who did not want to be identified.
The Ken-Betwa project in limbo
Work on the project to link the Ken and Betwa rivers flowing through MP and UP was originally slated to start in 2015. Five years down the line, it is yet to take off.
“Both states have failed to reach a consensus on their share of water from the river during the lean season when water flow is less,” said the senior ministry official quoted above.
Last month, Union Jal Shakti minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat and senior ministry officials met their counterparts from the two states to iron out the differences. “But there has been no forward movement. With the BJP in power in UP and Congress in MP, the project has got caught in the politics of the two states,” said a second official.
Besides differences over water sharing, the project has also got stuck because of the stringent conditions imposed by the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) of Union environment ministry.
The FAC, which approves any diversion of forest land, wants the Centre and respective state governments to acquire an equal stretch (6017 hectares) of land contiguous to the Panna Tiger Reserve as part of compensatory afforestation against the forest land that will be used for the project.
Over 4,000 hectares of forest land inside the tiger reserve will be taken up for the project that involves building a dam and a canal to transfer water to the drought-affected Bundelkhand region falling in the two states.
“The conditions imposed by the FAC are difficult to fulfil. According to the condition, we have to acquire 6,000 hectare of forest land contiguous to the tiger reserve. But such a vast stretch of contiguous land is not available. We have asked FAC for relaxation of this condition,” said the first official quoted earlier.
The funding of the Rs 18,000 crore project is another sticky issue. “There is no consensus on the proportion of funds to be shared between the Centre and the two states,” the official added.
At this rate, the official said, it looks very difficult to launch the project anytime soon. The project once complete will provide irrigation to about 6 lakh hectares of land and supply drinking water to 14 lakh people in the two states.
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.