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Arguments against interlinking of rivers

  • 1. Legal angles and election tangles: At present, there are serious disputes between various states of the Indian Union concerning sharing of river water. The disputes occur on account of the Chief Executive of any State having to take decisions and make claims in the interest of the people of his/her State since after all, that is the purpose for which he/she is elected. A Central Law to dictate water sharing between all the states from the network has the potential to precipitate new problems. This is because that there is no guarantee for change in the very political climate that causes interstate disputes in the first place, despite the present of river sharing agreements and authorities. Furthermore, if control is transferred to the center then decisions might be taken under political pressure.
  • 2. Financing : The effect of huge borrowing an enormous amount of money (estimated today at Rs. 5.6 lakh crores as conveyed by government of India to the Supreme Court, but it would surely increase) needs to be reconsidered. This especially when India is almost in a debt trap with rising debt servicing almost equaling loans received from financial institutions like World Bank or Asian Development Bank. It is also necessary to consider whether we will be in a financial and physical position to maintain the huge assets when created (dams, canals, tunnels, captive electric power generation plants, etc.) in order for the system to continue to function and give the benefits for which it is designed.

If we cannot maintain the network, the capital assets created will deteriorate and be lost and the benefits of the project and incomes from it will not be available, though the loan liability would remain. This will inevitably lead to take over of assets by the creditor Banks to consolidate the entry of foreign interests into India. The political aspect of forcible project implementation is increasing disaffection among displaced people who already number tens of millions since independence.

  • 3. Flood period : The basic idea of networking rivers is to convey unwanted floodwaters from one place to another where it is deficient and needed. But this idea does not consider that the period when it is surplus in the donor area (July to Oct. in the Ganga-Brahmaputra basins) is not the time when it is needed most in the recipient area (January to May in the peninsular rivers). In such a situation, it will be necessary to construct enormous holding reservoirs that will add to financial, social and environmental costs.
  • 4. Desertification : Flooding per se is not undesirable because it results in deposition of alluvium particularly in the delta areas of rivers to maintain the fertility of the land by compensating loss of topsoil due to natural erosion. Any system that prevents or severely reduces natural flooding (by diversion of floodwater) will cause land fertility to gradually reduce over the years, thus desertifying the land. The greatest loss that land can suffer is desertification by loss of topsoil. The land that will be so lost to cultivation is the most fertile delta land, and therefore the impact of this on total food production needs to be factored into the discussion. History tells us that entire civilizations have vanished due to desertification.
  • 5. River pollution: Annual floods flush industrial and municipal pollution in the Ganga down to the ocean. Reducing the flow in the Ganga by diversion will increase the concentration of pollution in the river. A live example is the Yamuna, from which Haryana and Delhi draw so much water that it barely flows after Delhi and the water quality at Delhi is so poor as to be positively poisonous. It is relevant to note that the expensive project to clean the Ganga has not succeeded even with annual flooding. This is not to argue that pollution of river water is inherent and may never be checked at source, but that this factor is yet another that needs to be included in the legitimacy check for the project.
  • 6. Security : India has a national electric power grid that functions with difficulty because supply does not meet demand. However, it is kept functional because electric power can be switched from one circuit to another in the grid. Further it is not easy to deliberately interfere physically with the flow of very high voltage (upto 132 kV) electricity on overhead conductors atop huge pylons. But a national water grid is entirely different because water does not flow instantaneously like electricity, it cannot be switched like electric power, and it can very easily be tampered with enroute to divert, pump out or interrupt flow.

A canal breached deliberately or due to natural circumstances combined with poor maintenance would spell disaster for the areas around the breach. Water is basic for human survival unlike electric power, and motivation for interference is that much more. Maintenance of a network of canal, dams, etc., will have to be done under central supervision. Flow can be prevented or caused by the simple expedient of taking control of sluice gates as demonstrated by farmers during the recent Cauvery water problem. Thus security of the network will be an enormous load on security forces of Central and State Governments. In contrast, decentralized systems can be maintained, repaired and protected by those who benefit from them and live nearby.

7. Land acquisition : One cannot consider the acquisition of 8000 sq km of land when acquisition of land even in acres is a vexed issue, which has taken years. Even if fresh legislation makes it possible within a short period, its implementation will cause untold misery and injustice to the displaced people in obtaining compensation due to systemic corruption. Besides, land for resettlement is mostly not available. Thus, we must scrutinize closely and guard against our tendencies to address the political challenges of progressive policy and lawmaking for resolution of conflicts over natural resources with technology heavy solutions.


The proposed river network is a mega project comprising of a system of interlinked projects and has to be therefore, subjected to multidisciplinary scrutiny. The people involved in the decision making about networking of rivers do not look into the holistic view of the situation but only examine it by associating it with their knowledge and expertise in special fields. Democratic action and enlightened self interest by all citizens of India is the need of the four. The ILR should be implemented in an eco friendly manner and that the benefits will surely outweigh the costs.


1. Radha Singh, ''Interlinking of Rivers, ''Economic and Political Weekly,

Vol. 38, No. 18 (May 10-16, 2003), pp. 1885-1886.

  • 2. Ali, I., Interlinking of Indian Rivers. Curr. Sci., 2004, 86, 498-499.
  • 3. Jain, S.K., Agarwal, P.K. and Singh, V.P., Hydrology and Water Resources

of India, Springer, The Netherlands, 2007.

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