New Delhi: Even as India’s first river interlinking project is yet to start amid environmental concerns, a parliamentary panel has asked the government to form an empowered group of state ministers on interlinking of rivers, similar to the one for goods and services tax (GST).
The suggestion was made in a report prepared by the parliamentary standing committee on agriculture, led by Bharatiya Janata Party MP Hukmdev Narayan Yadav. It was presented to parliament on 10 August.
The report said that river-interlinking projects are “crucial to solve the problems of water scarcity" in India and for “facing challenges related to water resource management due to climatic changes associated with global warming".
The committee, however, said it is “distressed to know that despite considerable lapse of time, the government is yet to made any significant headway towards interlinking of rivers (ILR) in the country" except two projects—Ken-Betwa Project and Pancheswar Project.
In May, the forest panel of the central government cleared the Ken-Betwa project that would involve diversion of around 6,000 hectares of forests, mostly from the Panna tiger reserve in Madhya Pradesh.
The basic idea behind the interlinking of rivers is transfer of water from surplus regions to water deficit areas in the country.
The government has repeatedly emphasized that inter-linking rivers will help save people living in drought-prone zones from hunger and people living in flood-prone areas from the destruction caused by floods.
The parliamentary panel was informed by the central government that “constitutional provisions regarding division of water resources restrict power of the Central government for planning and implementation of projects on water resources management such as interlinking of rivers" and that many state governments have objected to these projects.
Environmentalists criticized the idea of interlinking rivers. “When you push for something for which you have neither the science nor credible evidence, then you are making yourself open to charge that you are doing it either for ideological reasons or vested interests," said Himanshu Thakkar, co-ordinator of South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, a network of organizations and individuals working on issues related to water sector.