Gigantic task

The Supreme Court’s directive to the government to set up a committee to pursue the idea of interlinking of the country’s rivers will again revive the debate on the much-discussed plan. The idea is more than 50 years old, first proposed by an eminent technocrat minister K L Rao in 1972.

Another expert, Capt Dastur, had proposed another version involving a Himalayan canal for the northern and eastern rivers and a garland canal for peninsular India. A number of agencies and committees, including a parliament committee, have studied the project and recommended it but there have also been doubts and opposition from some quarters with respect to various aspects. The NDA government was keen on it and had formed a task force in 2002 but the plan did not make any progress. The UPA had endorsed it in 2004 but did not follow it up. Even now the UPA’s response is not very enthusiastic.

The  gigantic project, which is easily the world’s biggest plan to harness nature, bristles with technological, environmental and financial challenges. The expected expenditure runs into lakhs of crores of rupees. Though the court has said that it is worried only about the financial aspect, there will be many other problems like the environmental impact, land acquisition, dislocation of people and states’ rights. Some states have supported the project while others have opposed it, but the court has concluded that there is general approval. The benefits of the project, if it can be implemented, would be immense. It will put an end to the flood-drought cycle in the country, free agriculture of its dependence on the monsoon and make the country more than self-sufficient in food and energy. It is estimated that food production can more than double and the savings in many other areas will be huge. Water will no more be the problem of the future and many water-sharing disputes will be automatically resolved.

There is also a view that from a cost-benefit point of view, the gains may not be proportionate to the expenditure, problems and troubles involved in planning and executing the project. It would however be wrong to dismiss the proposal as fanciful and impractical. We are now in a position to make a better assessment of the project than 10 years ago. everyone concerned should be consulted and if it is feasible we should not be found lacking in will and the ability to dream big.

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