Nature has over the millennia truly linked a number of streams and rivers to form river basins in different parts of the world. ‘True’ link means a confluence of two or more rivers governed by terrestrial geography where one stream merges into another and loses its own identity while strengthening the latter. Some examples are rivers Tons, Chambal, Betwa, and Ken merging and losing themselves into river Yamuna, which in turn merges and loses itself into river Ganga at Prayag. This is how the massive Ganga basin has come about, enabling Ganga to collect and convey its waters and sediment to the Bay of Bengal in an endless natural cycle. In conjunction with the river Brahmputra, Ganga has created the world’s largest delta in the Sundarbans.
Are we trying, through the much trumpeted Inter-linking of Rivers (ILR), to mimic nature and create more Sundarbans?
If the so-called ILR scheme, which is actually a dams and canals affair, does get through, then the ultimate casualty would be deltas like the Sundarbans, since one of the basic unscientific premises of the ILR is that water and sediment flowing unutilised (by man) down a river to the sea is a ‘waste’.
The second unscientific premise of the ILR is the concept of ‘surplus’ and ‘deficit’ river basins. A concept which by trying to even out the water between such ‘full’ and ‘lean’ basins, reduces a river to no more than a pipeline. There are great variations among different regions in terms of their annual precipitation and the degree of water and sediment running into rivers en route to the seas. But that is ordained by nature and we who have chosen to inhabit such varied regions have evolved strategies best suited to the respective high or low rainfall environments. This adaptation is also true of the local biota (plants and animals). A river basin is a distinct evolutionary product and is best left alone.
The claims are that the ILR, costing over Rs 5,60,000 crore, aims through 30 links for an additional generation of 34,000 MW of power and an expansion of surface (canal-based) irrigation by over 35 million hectares.
The claims and their usefulness must be tested against past results and future plans. Records reveal that despite spending massive sums of money, the surface irrigation has actually gone down in real terms since the 1990s, leading to a massive surge in ground water-based irrigation. Further for a sunshine endowed nation like ours which is planning on adding almost 1 lakh MW of solar power, where is the need of additional hydropower at huge and preventable environmental and social costs?
Manoj Misra is convener, Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan. The views expressed are personal.