New Delhi: At a time when devastating floods have claimed over 700 lives in parts of the country, Union minister Uma Bharti on Saturday made a strong pitch for desilting and interlinking of rivers to combat the problem in the long run.

In view of the floods in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, water resources minister Bharti urged the two northeastern states to agree for the Middle Siang project, which she said, will tackle the calamity as well as solve their water woes. “The flood situation is being witnessed this year also in states where the calamity was not reported earlier. And states which reported floods in the past, the situation there has deteriorated," she told reporters in New Delhi.

The minister said such a situation has emerged mainly because accumulation of silt in huge quantities in rivers, particularly the Ganga and its tributaries. “These rivers need to be desilted. River interlinking is quite important using monsoon water," she added. On the Middle Siang, Bharti said she will pursue the two state governments to agree on realising the project that would be able to produce 9,600 megawatts of power, besides being helpful in controlling floods caused by trans-boundary river Brahmaputra.

The minister said the “big problem" in taking forward the project has been the rumour that entire Assam and Arunachal Pradesh will be “underwater if the dam bursts". “But I want to assure the people, we have all the reports of the world which suggest that there is no such threat looming. The project will rather help to deal with the flooding effectively," she added.

She further said that her ministry is focusing more on making preparations before the period when flooding happens than managing it after the crisis occurs. “I myself will visit the entire flood-prone areas after 15 days to figure out what preparations to do in view of possible flood situation," she added. Till Friday, the devastating floods this year had claimed 418, 156, 90, and 72 lives in Bihar, Assam, West Bengal, and Uttar Pradesh, respectively.