Notwithstanding the diplomatic row between India and Nepal over the latter’s Constitution, the two countries have set up an authority and started working on first trans-country river linking project to channel water from Sharda river in Nepal to Sabarmati in Gujarat.
In the first phase, India will develop five reservoirs on Sharda river that flows along Nepal-Uttarakhand border and has been cause of massive flooding in upper reaches of Nepal.
The project on paper is a win-win situation for both the countries, with ministry officials saying India will get excess water from the Himlayan river whereas Nepal will get cheaper power from hydel projects to be developed along the reservoirs.
The dams will be built by recently notified Pancheswar Development Authority having two chief executive officers — one each from India and Nepal and three directors each from the two countries with ambassadors of both countries as members.
“The authority has started working on building five reservoirs on Sharda river,” said Sriram Vedire, advisor to water resources minister Uma Bharati. “The Central Water Commission is working on link feasibility of taking Sharda water to Sabarmati via Yamuna and Sukli rivers”.
As per the initial plan, excess water stored in reservoirs to be built on Sharda river will be channeled into Yamuna in Uttarakhand, from there to Sukli river in Rajasthan via Haryana and finally into Sabarmati, about 2,000 km from the main source.
The cost of the project is estimated to be over Rs 1 lakh crore over the next 15-20 years. Execution of such big multi-purpose hydel and irrigation projects in India has taken over 30 years and Narmada Valley project is one such example with work still going on after it was initiated in 1979.
The Sharda-Sabarmati river linking project was revived during Prime Minsiter Narendra Modi’s Nepal visit in August 2014 — 12 years after it was envisaged by previous NDA government as part of its river inter-linking project — by singing letters of exchange regarding terms of reference of Pancheswar Development Authority, which will construct the dams on river Sharda.
There has been headway in the project since the PM’s visit, claim officials.
The authority was notified in August last year and the power secretaries from two countries met recently in Delhi and decided to get a detailed project report done by water resources ministry consultant Wapcos India Limited.
“The DPR will be submitted this month and discussed at the next meeting of the authority to be held in Kathmandu,” a water resources ministry official said.
A Nepal government official also shared his optimism that the ground work on the project could start by the end of this year. However, the decision on the rate at which Nepal will buy power from Pancheswar project still hangs in balance.
The two countries have not been able to sort out differences even though prime ministers of Nepal and India had given 45 days to officials in August 2014 to sort the issue. Nepal is objecting to Indian clause that no more reservoirs can be build on the river while India wants Nepal to purchase power at a reasonable rate. Nepal wants to buy power at 2002 rate when the project was first discussed. Officials from Nepal and India were, however, optimstic that the issue will be resolved at the meeting of the authority in Kathmandu this month. “We are close to resolving the issue,” a water resources ministry official said.
The project has its flip-side too. Experts believe that building dams on the river passing through a young mountain range will be an ecological disaster like hydel projects in Uttarakhand that has witnessed series of devastating flash floods in recent past.
“Investing crore of rupees for channelising water through big canals is a waste. One can get better results through localised watershed management and harvesting programme,” said Himanshu Thakkar, an IITian and head of network of NGOs on rivers and dams.
Ministry officials admit that even if the work on the project starts this year, its completion will take 25-30 years even though the official time frame is 15 years.
The Narmada multi-purpose irrigation project, which covers areas in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, has still not been completed almost 30 years after the work started.