Overcoming Obstacles in river interlinking
Baljit Dhaka

Overcoming Obstacles in river interlinking

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Overcoming Obstacles in river interlinking


The civil engineering project aims to effectively manage water resources in India by linking Indian rivers by a network of reservoirs and canals to enhance irrigation and groundwater recharge, reduce persistent floods in some parts and water shortages in other parts of India. Out of total utilizable surface water resources of 690 billion cubic meter (BCM), only 65% is currently utilized in India, the rest falls into the sea.

It has been divided into 3 parts.

a northern Himalayan rivers inter-link component, 

a southern Peninsular component an intrastate rivers linking component.

The project is being managed by India's National Water Development Agency (NWDA), under its Ministry of water resources

What is the Issue

The major issues are

Disagreement among states

Environmental issues

Lack of legal framework for central intervention

Majors are taken so far

In 1980, the Central government prepared a National Perspective on Water Development.

It envisaged inter-basin water transfer comprising 30 water-link projects and about 3,000 storages connecting 37 Himalayan and Peninsular rivers.

Though the scheme is likely to cost $123 billion, it will help create 35 gigawatts of hydropower, irrigate 35 million hectares, and usher in navigation and fishery benefits.

Of the 30 water-link projects, the Ken-Betwa Link project involving Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh is at an advanced stage of preparation.

This project aims to transfer surplus water from the Ken river to the Betwa basin through canals to irrigate the land, supply drinking water to the drought-prone Bundelkhand region, and generate hydropower.

Though this project has been accorded all statutory clearances, a water-sharing arrangement between the two States is pending.

However, in the case of the Renuka dam project in the Upper Yamuna basin, five States recently entered into a water-sharing pact.

What should be done

Evolving consensus - The States with surplus water resources do not generally agree that there is such surplus.

It is difficult for donor and donee states to agree with the latter often demand more water.

The States are also apprehensive about disturbing the existing allocation of water as per awards.

There is thus a need to evolve a consensus among the States concerned.

To mitigate the likely adverse impact of climate change, long- and short-term measures, including inter-basin water transfer, is the need of the hour.

Need for Legislation - At present, there is no legislative framework through which the Central government can intervene in this regard.

Most of the river basins are inter-State.

The Constitution allows the Centre to regulate and develop inter-State rivers and river valleys as per Entry 56 of the Union List.

Thus, one or more Central legislation should be passed using this Entry for facilitating the inter-basin transfer.

Environmental concerns -  The inter-basin water transfer (IBWT) projects are like other water resources projects and hence the environmental concerns of IBWT projects are similar.

Thus, all environmental issues and concerns such as submergence of forest areas and biodiversity loss need to be addressed holistically if benefits are to outweigh costs.

Rehabilitation and resettlement- The IBWT projects require the construction of reservoirs and link canals and these involve substantial submergence.

Further, canal construction also requires land acquisitions.

Thus rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R) is an important issue.

There is a need to have diverse innovative and attractive R&R packages for project-affected persons so that they support the project on their own.

International co-operation- Many of the link rivers flow through the neighboring countries and hence require international co-operation.

For example, the main components of six Himalayan link projects fall in Nepal and Bhutan.

There is a need for hydro diplomacy with these two neighbors to evolve a consensus.

Similarly, the Sankosh project (Manas-Sankosh-Teesta-Ganga Link) also requires interaction with Bangladesh, Nepal, and Bhutan, calling for consensus among these countries with India.


The central Govt. is going to establish the National Interlinking of Rivers Authority(NIRA) which will be responsible for generating funds and taking up interstate and intrastate projects.

As of now, six ILR projects — the Ken­Betwa, Damanganga­Pinjal, Par­TapiNarmada, Manas­SankoshTeesta­Ganga, MahanadiGodavari and GodavariCauvery (Grand Anicut)have been under examination of the authorities. 

Concerning the peninsular rivers, the Centre has chosen to focus on the Godavari­Cauvery link than the earlier proposal to link the Mahanadi ­-Godavari ­-Krishna­- Pennar­-Cauvery rivers.