Key depts divided on waterways proposal for 11 rivers in state

Key depts divided on waterways proposal for 11 rivers in state
The Centre’s ambitious plan to develop 11 rivers in Karnataka as National Waterways to enable transport of goods has not gone down too well with the Water Resources Department, which has questioned the very feasibility of the idea. The Public Works Department (PWD), however, is in favour of the project.

The management of rivers comes under the Water Resources Department, whereas ports and inland water transport belong to the PWD. Last year, the Centre notified 106 river canals as National Waterways, including 11 in Karnataka: Bhima, Ghataprabha, Gurupura, Kabini, Kali, Malaprabha, Netravathi, Panchagangavali (Panchagangoli), Sharavathi, Tungabhadra and Udayavara.

The Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI), under the Nitin Gadkari-led Shipping Ministry, has estimated Rs 25,000 crore to develop national waterways, which are “well in line to become the lifeline of the country.”

“There are practical difficulties. Karnataka’s river basin is not suitable for waterways. There are already dams and barrages on all the rivers,” a Water Resources department official told DH, requesting anonymity. “Even if you want to have movement of ships on short distances, the rivers don’t have enough flow.” The bigger concern the official expressed was on the ecological front: “River trenching will have to be taken up to make waterways work. That means playing with the very topography of the rivers.”

Work is already under way on the Ganga and will soon be taken upon the Brahmaputra. “The first phase focuses on perennial rivers where waterways are feasible,” the official said, adding that the Water Resources Department would apprise the Centre of these concerns before work is taken up. 

PWD Additional Chief Secretary M Lakshminarayana rubbished the concerns. “There are so many rivers in the coastal areas where we can easily have 3-4 km-long waterways,” he said. The Gurupura river, for example, is ideal for waterways, he pointed out. “Waterways strategy for Karnataka will be different from that of other states. We are in touch with the Centre and will share our inputs when the detailed project reports are being prepared.”

Water expert S Vishwanath expressed surprise. “Where are the months in which these rivers flow? Even the mighty Krishna dries up while the Cauvery is dry most of the time,” he said. Trenching will cause an ecological disaster, he said. “Trenching is the removal of silt from the river bed to increase depth for boats and ships to float. It changes the morphology of a river.”

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