Centre's river-linking schemes: Despite Nitin Gadkari’s bold claims, projects unlikely to take off soon, say experts
Experts believe that Narendra Modi's Rs 5.57 lakh crore river-linking schemes are unlikely to begin soon as they are likely to face legal challenges.
Even though Nitin Gadkari, the water resources, river development and Ganga rejuvenation minister, has claimed that his ministry would begin work on three river-linking projects within three months, experts believe that the exercise is unlikely to begin anytime soon. And even if it does, claim experts, it would run into legal challenges.
While reviewing a meeting on Tuesday, Gadkari told senior officials in the water resource ministry that the Ken-Betwa, Par-Tapi-Narmada and Damanganga-Pinjal river-linking projects would start soon, reported Livemint. He also said that he would hold meetings with chief ministers of various states to resolve various issues and challenges faced by the scheme.
Himanshu Thakkar, coordinator of South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People told Firstpost that none of the projects mentioned by the minister has all the required clearances till now to start work. Also, a case is still being heard in the Supreme Court over the Ken-Betwa river-linking project.
Thakkar added that even water sharing agreements between the riparian states were not acquired to get work started. "These processes are unlikely to be completed within three months. Even if the government somehow manages to steer through them in such a short span of time, they are likely to be challenged in court," he said.
The plan is aimed at linking 60 rivers across India, to drain surplus water from rivers in the flood-affected areas to the drought-prone ones. Ken-Betwa would be the first rivers to be inter-linked under this scheme. Both the rivers flow through Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.
Ken and Betwa would be linked by a 220-kilometre long canal to provide irrigation to 6,000 square kilometres of water-short areas like Bundelkhand in Madhya Pradesh.
Another expert, Professor Brij Mohan, said that though the Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh governments had signed an agreement to share water, in July this year, the plan reached the Prime Minister's Office after the Madhya Pradesh government demanded a change in it.
Following the differences between the two states over water-sharing, Uma Bharati, the former water resource minister, said in the Parliament that the project can proceed only after an agreement is signed between the two states.
"In July, the Central Empowered Committee visited the site and will submit its report after hearing. Later, it would submit its report to the Supreme Court, which will provide its judgement," Thakkar said.
Though the National Board for Wildlife has cleared the project, it has recommended that the hydropower dams proposed by the be established outside the Panna Tiger Reserve, so that the operations have minimal disturbance on the tiger reserve.
Significantly, Thakkar said that if the government attains the required clearances they are likely to face legal challenges.
It is often argued by environmental activists that the Ken-Betwa project would result in the felling of close to 18 lakh trees and submergence of 6,017 hectares of forest land – a majority of which falls in the Panna Tiger Reserve.
Experts say that Par-Tapi-Narmada and Damanganga and Pinjal projects are also likely to face similar hindrances as there is no water sharing agreement between Gujarat and Maharashtra either. The Par-Tapi-Narmada project will benefit mainly Gujarat. It envisages transfer of surplus waters from the west-flowing rivers north of Damanganga up to Tapi in north Gujarat.
The Damanganga-Pinjal link envisages transfer, to the Pinjal reservoir, of surplus water from the Damanganga basin in Gujarat, that would be available at the Bhugad and Khargihill dams. This transfer will augment the supply of water to greater Mumbai.
In 2010, the two states signed a tripartite Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for water sharing in the presence of the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
But, in 2015, BN Navalawala, advisor to Gujarat chief minister on water resources development and former secretary, water resources, central government, said that Gujarat is ready to share water from Damanganga and allow the development of Pinjal link, as per a Times of India report.
"But this can be possible only if Maharashtra agrees to share equal quantity of water from the Tapi basin that falls in Maharashtra. There will be no compromise on this issue. It will be pure barter agreement," Navalawala had reportedly said.
The Gujarat government's reaction was in wake of a series of events in Maharashtra, where the Assembly had to be adjourned over a debate on the agreement. Gopal Krishna, an ecologist told Firstpost that the Par river is polluted by heavy metals and that river-linking it would pollute the other two rivers.
"It is an absurd idea to link non-polluted rivers with the polluted ones. It will only damage the ecology of the rivers," he said
Another activist, Manoj Misra, also maintained that the people who will be affected by the projects are likely to challenge the clearances in the court.
The Par-Tapi-Narmada river-linking project is likely to submerge 7,559 hectares of land covering 75 tribal villages in Gujarat and Maharashtra, with populations of more than 14,000, as per a report published by the National Water Development Agency. The project also considers rehabilitation expenses.
"But when rehabilitation of people displaced by the earlier projects, such as the Bhakra-Nangal dam, has not been done, why would anyone trust such promises?" he asked.
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