Nearly 40 years after it was conceived, India will finally launch its ambitious river interlinking project in December to irrigate parched farmlands and generate power.
The 30-link project would start with the linking of Ken and Betwa rivers to provide irrigation facility to water-deficient Raisen and Vidisha districts of central Madhya Pradesh. The two rivers — that constitute phase 1 and 2 of the project — flow through MP and Uttar Pradesh.
Estimated to cost more than Rs 7,600 crore, the Ken-Betwa link will facilitate the annual irrigation of 4.46 lakh hectares of land — three times the size of Delhi.
“The detailed project report and other formalities have been completed. We expect the work to start from December. Detailed reports for some other projects too have been completed and the construction work on those links would also start gradually,” said S Masood Hussain, director general of the National Water Development Agency (NWDA), which has been entrusted with the project. The agency falls under the ministry of water resources.
Construction on the Damanganga-Pinjal and Par-Tapi-Narmada links in Gujarat and Maharashtra and the second phase of the Ken-Betwa link could also start “very soon” with detailed project reports already completed.
The project — assigned as a priority under the Vajpayee government — received a renewed push under PM Narendra Modi who set up a special committee to monitor its execution in September last year. A separate task force was also constituted in April.
According to Hussain, the project is important for the country’s water security but environmentalists have their own concerns.
“What is the point having such a project which will cause deforestation, displacement of people and increase the impact of climate change? There are cost effective alternatives such as water harvesting and watershed management which the government does not want to explore,” said Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP).
Disagreeing with Thakkar, NWDA chief Hussain told HT that the project reports take every possible risk into account and incorporate corrective measures.
The project is expected to generate 34,000 megawatts of power and raise the ultimate irrigation potential from 140 million hectares to 175 million hectares.The entire project was estimated at Rs 5.6 lakh crore 10 years ago but officials say it may cost much more. The final sum would be known once the detailed reports for all 30 links are complete.