Magic: Creating Rivers of Hope in India
It is no secret why floods and droughts occur in India —
because some parts of the country receive much more than normal rainfall leading
to floods, especially in the Ganga and Brahmaputra rivers.
the same time, large chunks of peninsular India receive less than normal
rainfall, leading to droughts. We cannot control rainfall in India. But we could
manipulate the manner in which rainwater is allocated. It is a distribution
issue; and like most distribution problems, it has to be solved by removing the
demand and supply side bottlenecks.
is why I am so upbeat about the recently announced river interlinking plan for
India’s peninsular and Himalayan rivers.
The government’s grand proposal, which seeks to retrieve floodwater going
waste to the sea and distributing it to water-scarce areas, will link 37 rivers
through 31 links and 9,000 km of canals.
This is necessary because
water resources in the Brahmaputra and Ganges basin
make up 60 per cent of the country’s total resources. In contrast, water
resources in Gujarat’s Sabarmati basin account for only 0.2 per cent of
India’s total resources. The result? The Brahmaputra
region is the most flood-prone region; and Sabarmati the most drought-prone.
we add to this the problem of shifting patterns of precipitation and run-offs
associated with climatic change, as well as an inability to predict and manage
the quantity and quality of water, we have a king-sized crisis during bad years.
In 2002, for example, India incurred a loss of Rs 250 billion just on account of
crop loss because of the drought.
speaking, lack of water is a bigger problem than excess water in India. The
country’s annual requirement of water is projected to increase from 634
billion cubic metres to 813 billion cubic metres by 2025. Unlike floods, which
are restricted to eastern India, droughts persist over a much bigger
geographical area. As a result, the impact on the economy because of a lack of
water is much more severe.
is why the project is so significant. Take its impact on food security. The
Planning Commission estimates that the country will need 450 million tonnes by
2050. At the current growth rate of production, India will have to import
heavily to meet this forecasted demand. On the other hand, once river
interlinking enhances India’s irrigation potential by 140 million hectares,
foodgrain production could double from the current level of 212 million tonnes
to 450 million tonnes.
other words, India could continue to retain its food security 47 years from now,
even if population grows at the current pace to 1.8 billion by 2050. Or consider
the impact of the power sector. The project is estimated to produce up to 35,000
megawatts of hydroelectric power, and meet the increasing energy demands of an
far, we’ve only looked at the benefits of the project when it is completed.
Actually, the physical task of creating a network of water storage reservoirs
across the country will also have a huge multiplier effect on the economy. Every
once in a while, the country needs a big push to make it roll forward, and then
gather a special momentum on its own. The Golden Quadrilateral Project is one
such project: The government kick-off, linking India’s metropolitan cities,
has created thousands of jobs for India’s rural landless, besides giving a
fresh lease of life to India’s steel, cement and automobile industries.
now needs another heave to keep the growth momentum going. This is where the
river networking project could fit in nicely. There will be huge requirements of
steel, cement and other construction materials.
of feasibility reports and geological studies will require a large number of
consultants, and hundreds of housing agencies could be involved in
rehabilitation work. But the most positive impact of the project, however, will
be in the number of jobs it manages to create: 10 million through direct
employment and ano-ther 10 million through outsourced contract jobs.
big question: Will this mega project work? There is no reason not to hope. China
has begun work on a $59 billion project to divert water from the damp south to
the arid north. Scheduled to be completed by 2010, the first phase of the
project will deliver water through two massive aqueducts. Each as big as a
medium-sized river, the two aqueducts, up to 1,300 km long, will bring water
from the Yangtze river to Beijing and the nearby industrial towns.
fact, we needn’t even look outside India for inspiration. Drought conditions
in western Rajasthan are now virtually history, thanks to the transfer of
surplus water from the Ravi-Beas to the deserts of Jaisalmer in Rajasthan
through the Indira Gandhi Canal.
here’s the bigger question: Will divergent interest groups allow this project
to work? Will there be political issues to be resolved? Will the government be
able to win over environmental sceptics who are already voicing concerns about
important, will the government be able to hardsell the financial viability of
this project to potential investors? Most important, of course, the project will
have to be sold to the people. Sure, the road ahead won’t be easy, but river
interlinking is an idea whose time has come.
author is chairman & managing director, Kirloskar Brothers Ltd )