The rising rate of inflation, recorded at 8.74 per cent in April is the major challenge for the government in the last few months. According to RBI Governor D Subbarao, food scarcity in rural India is driving up its prices. To cope up, steps must be taken to revitalise the traditional crop agriculture which is vital to food security and farm income. Despite the second green revolution, the supply of agricultural commodities still falls short and one of the major reasons is the shortage in supply of water which can be mitigated by the successful completion of National River Linking Project (NRLP).
Though lots of debate had taken place on the sustainability of the NRLP as the only future water solution of the country, the Supreme Court directed the Centre to file a status report on the ambitious Rs 5,60,000-crore project that aims to facilitate drinking water and better irrigation to the parched areas of the country.
With the changing economic circumstances across the globe, the huge constructional activities such as dams, reservoirs and canals comparable in scale to the Golden Quadrilateral (GQ) project seem to be the best way out to beat high food inflation that may vitiate the investment climate in the country in near future. NRLP proposes to link 14 Himalayan rivers in the north and 16 peninsular rivers in the south. The project, if and when implemented, will be one of the biggest inter-basin water transfer projects in the world.
Impact of the project
Water solution: The project carried out in a sensible and scientific manner will not only prevent the colossal waste of a vitally important natural resource by mitigating flood and inundation by channellising flowing surface water of rainy seasons , but also ensure the availability of water to drier areas; combating both flood and drought simultaneously. Moreover, this project will generate 34,000 MW of hydropower and provide irrigation to an additional 35 million hectares of land.
Rural India: According to the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) studies, the project will have a major impact on the rural areas in general and the agriculture—dependent households in particular. The rural household’s per capita income with NRP is expected to increase by 7.49 per cent, as compared to the baseline growth without the NRP scenario. Per capita household income of agriculture-dependent households in rural areas is expected to go up by 13.2 per cent. As for non-agriculture dependent households, per capita household income is expected to go up by 4.8 per cent in rural areas and 9.8 per cent in urban areas.
Water watch India
■ India faces a turbulent water future—World Bank.
■ Per capita water availability decreasing rapidly with increasing population.
■ India ranks second in population but stands 108th in per capita water availability in the world.
■ The water availability across river basins vary significantly, some will have severe water stress.
Source: StrategicAnalysis of India’s River Linking project, International Water Management Institute.
Economy: The short term impact of the link canal is in the form of increased employment opportunities and the growth of the services sector. Sectors supplying crucial inputs to the construction sector, such as cement, clay, iron and steel are likely to grow. In the medium and long term, the major impact of the link canals is through increased and assured irrigation. Although the major and direct gainers of the interlinking project would be agriculture and agriculture-dependent households, the entire economy will be benefited.
NCAER has estimated the cost of the entire system at Rs 4,44,331.20 lakh crore, about 21 per cent to 22 per cent less than the original 2002 estimate of Rs 5,60,000 lakh crore. Though the linking of rivers may initially appear to be a costly proposition in ecological, geological, hydrological and economical terms, in the long run the net benefits coming from it will far outweigh the cost. Investment in the water resources sector would be a fitting measure for creating jobs and boosting demand in the economy.
Rahul Sinha, President of BJP party in West Bengal stated: “If we would be in the government, we will definitely give our full strength to interlink the various rivers in India. Former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee took the initiative that would solve the primary agriculture problem, i.e., shortage of water supply in the agricultural land.” Bihar government is coming up with a massive budgetary support of Rs 2916.91 crore for the department of Bihar Water Resources for the financial year 2011-12 to initiate the national river linking project. According to the Bihar Water Resources Minister Vijay Chaudhary, four projects in north Bihar, Budhi Gandak-Non-Baya-Ganga, Koshi-Bagmati link, Bagmati-Budhi Gandak link and Kohra-Chandrawat link, have already been taken up. Similarly, the state government has taken up two river inter-linking projects in South Bihar for irrigation purposes—Dhanaraje-Phulwaria link and Sakri-Nata link.
At present, out of a total 30 river linking projects, the government has shortlisted five including the Godavari-Krishna and Dawan-Ganga-Pinjal schemes. According to A K Bajaj, Chairman, Central Water Commission, the five projects include Ken-Betwa rivers interlink between Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, Par-Tapi-Narmada rivers and Dawan-Ganga-Pinjal rivers between Gujarat and Maharashtra, Chambal-Kali-Sindh rivers between Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, and Godavari-Krishna rivers between Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. But unfortunately, the government is forgetting that UPA-I’s 2004 National Common Minimum Programme promised “a comprehensive assessment of the feasibility of linking of rivers … starting with south-bound rivers”.
By Roy from Kolkata