Modi Revives Much-Needed Project To Inter-link India's Rivers

December 2, 2014

During his recent visit to attend the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit in Kathmandu, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi discussed the feasibility of linking Nepal's Sharda River, which flows down the Himalayas north-south along the India-Nepal border, with the water-short Yamuna River that flows west-east in the Ganga Valley. According to Indian media reports, Nepali Prime Minister Sushil Koirala agreed to cooperate with the inter-linking and made his approval known on other proposed inter-linking of Nepal-based rivers with India's.

The inter-linking of rivers, or the transfer of water from one river basin to another, was formally adopted almost two decades ago by the National Water Development Authroity (NWDA) set up in 1982 within India's Ministry of Water Resources. NWDA, in its report in 1995, suggested India needs to have 30 river links, 3,000 storage structures, a canal network stretching almost 10,000 miles. The report said it would help generate 34GW of hydropower, provide irrigation to 35 million hectares of agricultural land and transfer 175 billion cubic meters of water annually. Incidentally, the Sharda-Yamuna link-up is considered the 31st inter-linking project and it would augment the Yamuna River, giving a perennial flow between Delhi and Agra and even beyond, to the point the River Chambal joins it and gives it a normal flow.

The NWDA report said: "One of the most effective ways to increase the irrigation potential to improve food grain production, mitigate floods and droughts and reduce regional imbalances in the availability of water, is the Inter-Basin Water Transfer from surplus rivers to deficit areas. The Brahmaputra and the Ganga, particularly their northern tributaries; the Mahanadi, the Godavari, and the west-flowing rivers originating from the Western Ghats are found to be surplus in water resources.

Unfortunately, facing the huge political task, no Indian government subsequently took up the NWDA proposal, that is, until now. Following his inauguration as Prime Minister Of India, Modi has revived the proposal. Apart from the Sharda-Yamuna inter-linking, news reports indicate that several other intrastate river linking projects are now mooted as well. Under the overall plan for the Himalayan rivers, a series of storage reservoirs, dams and canals will be constructed to bring surplus water from the tributaries of Ganga and Yamuna to the western region of Rajasthan and Gujarat -- the more arid part of north and northwest India. The Brahmaputra will also be linked to the Ganga with a canal running through the northern part of Bangladesh.