New Delhi: The government will resolve all pending issues on inter-linking rivers and work on three river interlinking projects will start in the next three months, Union water resources minister Nitin Gadkari said.
The interlinking projects that the minister referred to are Ken-Betwa, Damanganga-Pinjal and Par-Tapi-Narmada. Gadkari also announced that he will meet chief ministers of Maharashtra and Gujarat to resolve issues regarding the Damanganga-Pinjal project in the next 15 days.
He was speaking at the 31st annual general meeting of the National Water Development Agency (NWDA) Society.
Gadkari, who recently got the charge of the Union ministry of water resources, river development and Ganga rejuvenation, said the three projects have received all necessary approvals, and that he will hold meetings with the chief ministers concerned soon to sort out inter-state issues so that the projects can take off within three months.
Expressing concern about the plight of people in 13 drought-prone and seven flood-prone regions of the country, Gadkari stressed upon the need to develop effective means for conserving available water and sharing what is surplus.
He stated the socio-economic cost of water projects should be taken into account while preparing detailed project report, and emphasised on the need for developing innovative funding models for water projects, and accessing loans at low interest rates.
Remarks by the new water resources minister are significant given that his predecessor Uma Bharati had failed to resolve issues with Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, which delayed the start of the Ken-Betwa project.
Despite opposition from environmentalists, the central government had said it will learn lessons from the implementation of the Ken-Betwa project while going ahead with others.
The idea of interlinking of rivers was first proposed by Sir Arthur Cotton in 1850s. It was then revived in 1972 by K.L. Rao, then India’s minister of power and irrigation. Subsequently, a total of 30 river links were identified across India which would connect every major river in the Indian mainland. The estimated cost of these 30 links was about Rs5.6 trillion nearly a decade ago and it is estimated that it is now over Rs10 trillion.
In February 2012, a Supreme Court bench headed by then chief justice S.H. Kapadia ordered the Centre to implement interlinking of rivers in a time-bound manner.
In August, the parliamentary standing committee on agriculture, led by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Hukmdev Narayan Yadav, in its report asked the central government to form an empowered group of state ministers on interlinking of rivers similar to the empowered group of state finance ministers on the goods and services tax (GST) to resolve issues.