The largest of them – the Ganga basin – is not the worst case.
The Indus this year is 35 per cent and the Krishna 67 per cent less than their 10-year normal.
The most updated estimates of per capita water availability in India’s river basins show stark inequality.
The scheme also envisions an area more than twice the size of Andhra Pradesh receiving additional water for irrigation and to eventually even out the precarious swings between floods and droughts.
Yet even as the project moves forward it must consider the risks at hand, which include the possibility that it could displace nearly 1.5 million people due to the submergence of 27.66 lakh hectares of land; and concerns surrounding escalating cost projections, which have reportedly jumped to something closer to Rs. Part five of the six-part series focusses on river basins.
Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti argues that river interlinking will cost the government about Rs.
10 trillion and the spate of projects that involve connecting 14 for Himalayan rivers and 16 in peninsular India implies that 15,000 km of new canals will have to be added to relocate 174 BCM of water.
Since the Ganga basin’s topography is flat, building dams would not substantially add to river flows and these dams could threaten the forests of the Himalayas and impact the functioning of the monsoon system. In interlinking systems, it is assumed that the donor basin has surplus water that can be made available to the recipient basin.
“If in future, this basic assumption goes haywire for any system, wherein our perennial systems – mostly Himalayan – don’t retain the same character of being donor basins, then the whole concept goes for a toss.
Apart from the massive displacement of people that such projects will bring about, says activist Himanshu Thakkar, they also threaten to obstruct the natural ecology of rivers.
Former Planning Commission member, Mihir Shah noted in a critique of India’s river-interlinking projects in the Economic and Political Weekly that in the Krishna river basin water storage in major and medium reservoirs has reached total water yield with virtually no water going into the sea in low rainfall years.