Based on a Public Interest Litigation, a Supreme Court division bench in the early 2000s had directed the Centre to implement the controversial river linking proposal involving more than `500,000 crore (approximately $110 billion) without bypassing any of the essential procedures in the process by 2016. There was an unprecedented outcry against the proposal from civil society — including a representation to the prime minister
by 50 citizens of national eminence. The proposal was put on hold. The present bench of the Supreme Court, in fact, has revived the ‘the instrumentalist vision’ to complete the process; with the caveat of setting up a high powered committee to ‘implement’ the project.In unsuitable, arid or semi-arid, agro-climatic regions, excessive water transfer and usage have caused irreversible land degradation. About three-fourth of prime agricultural was lost by water logging, salinity and erosion by 1980. These irreversibly degraded tracts include the command areas of
Tapi, Mahi, Chambal, Tawa, and Narmada in western UP and Rajasthan, providing a frightening preview of river linking, whose major thrust is on transferring water into inappropriate terrain. Basically, the concept of surplus or deficit is alien to river basins. Each drop has its use in preserving the river regime and environmental health of the basin.
Fundamental objections to river linking:
● Linking of rivers violates the natural laws governing the life support system, and natural dynamics; and discounts the bounties provided by river systems.
● The loss of flood plains and spill basins by human interference has caused devastating floods. River linking shall enhance this situation.
● Man-made dams, reservoirs, and artificial lakes that are to be project ingredients would rob the rivers of their energy potential.
●In fact, stupendous energy would be needed for the rivers to jump over the natural water divides and topo-barriers.
●Rainfall and water availability is regulated by the monsoons, resulting in a highly bimodal annual river flow and moisture regime with consequential seasonal lows (droughts) and highs (floods). River linking shall certainly aggravate both droughts and floods by superimposition of the situation in each of the linked rivers.
●Such linkages could possibly be thought of in more temperate latitudes with a more homogeneous annual moisture/ flow regime. However, the Soviet experience of river diversion has even then been catastrophic, resulting on the devastation of the Aral Sea.
●A river is not a mere flow channel, but a holistic system encompassing the whole basin — water divide, catchment, valley and outflow point. Any alteration shall affect the whole system and even induce microclimatic changes.
●Inestimable loss of natural biodiversity, wild cultivars and plant gene banks shall inevitably follow river linking to disrupting the regional food chain operation.
●Monsoonal rainfall on the degraded catchments shall cause excessive siltation-related problems in the linking systems.
● Careful scrutiny of the state of environmental health of various rivers should have been first made before clean rivers are linked very filthy rivers.
●River linking shall inevitably lead to an alteration of the seasonal water availability pattern; and the possibility of upsetting the evapotranspiration balance.
● An inevitable change in the cropping pattern from excessively irrigated lands after river-linking shall cause a major increase in methane and other gases that contribute to global warming.
●Land degradation shall also be inescapably aggravated.
● The colossal estimated cost will surely jeopardise the national economy for decades and force diversion of funds from the more essential needs of the vast majority of rural poor.
●The inter-state and international ramifications of shared riparian systems would certainly open the floodgates for a civil war situation and serious discord with India’s neighbours. Not only is any such proposal for inter-basin transfers totally repugnant to all natural and economic logic, but shall alter the subcontinent’s geographical configuration. In the ultimate analysis, the proposal shall signal the death knell of our river systems that provide the principal source of sustenance; and encompass social, cultural and religious traditions.
The Beneficiaries of River Linking:
The politically important consideration for drawing up the river linking plan was the emergence of major national and transnational industries and rapid urbanisation in many of the ‘low water availability’ natural regions of the west and south. It was purported also to help the commercial farming lobby for sugarcane. A case of ‘mortgaging the nation’s future for a miniscule affluent population.