On the watershed leading to Interlinking of Rivers in India By Major General AK Chaturvedi (Retd)

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India is home to 18 per cent population of the world,, but has only 4% of the water resources of the world. Some of the related issues which further reduce the availability are; the ever-increasing population (though the growth rate has reduced in recent times but every year 10-15 million people are getting added), pollution of the existing water sources, encroachments leading to rain water not reaching the water channels, less storage capacity ( India has only 225 cubic metres per capita per annum capacity whereas in China it is 1200 cubic meters per capita per annum. Live storage capacity is 385 billion cubic meters (BCM) or in terms of days it is only 30 days of the requirement in 91 storage reservoirs, while developed nations strategically store 900 days of the requirement’ worth of water demand in arid areas, river basins and reservoirs. Renewable groundwater capacity is only 432 BCM  which is depleting at the alarming pace resulting into the contamination of the groundwater over a large area. India relies excessively on groundwater, which accounts for over 50 percent of the irrigated area with 20 million tube wells installed. About 15 percent of India’s food is being produced using rapidly depleting groundwater, which is resulting into a greater reliance on surface water supply systems.) and above all the climate change which results into higher rain fall in shorter time frame.  The average rainfall in India is about 4,000 billion cubic metres, but most of India’s rainfall (about 85 %)comes over a 4-month period – June through September. It has been established that almost 90 percent of the rain water goes waste as adequate storage capacity does not exist.  Furthermore, the rain across India because of its sheer size is not uniform. The regions in  the East and the North get most of the rain, while the west and south get lesser rain. India also sees years of excess monsoons and floods, followed by below average or late monsoons with droughts. This geographical and time variance in availability of natural water versus the year round demand for irrigation (enough water is not stored/ available to irrigate 140 million hectares of agricultural land, thus even today the irrigation is highly dependent on rain water which we hardly conserve) , drinking and industrial water creates a demand-supply gap, that has been worsening with India’s rising population. Thus there is a need to conserve every drop of water that we have and also enhance water storage capacity. One of the possible solutions to solve the country’s water woes is to link rivers and lakes in such a way that surplus of water from rivers and reservoirs is transferred to those rivers and lakes which are deficient of their capacity. This sustained availability of water throughout the year will help India to achieve food and water security. Also it will help India to achieve the long term sustainable productivity of the river basins and for mitigating the anthropogenic influences[1] on the rivers by allowing adequate salt export to the sea in the form of environmental flows[2].

Historical Perspective on the Concept of the River Linking in India

Cotton Plan– Inter Linking of River Programme (IRLP) was first advocated by the famous colonial engineer and irrigator General Sir Arthur Cotton; as early as 1850. His plan, titled, ‘The peninsular Scheme’, envisaged to build a navigational canal connecting Karachi (which was part of India at that point in time) to Madras (now known as Chennai) via Kanpur, Calcutta (now known as Kolkata) and Cuttack with an additional line stretching up to Poona (now known as Pune). Sir Arthur Cotton had also thought of a plan to link rivers in Southern India for inland navigation. This  idea was partially implemented but was later abandoned because inland navigation lost ground to the railways. Even the canal that was constructed went into decline.

Rao’s Plan of National Water Grid– In 1972, Sri KL Rao, Irrigation Minister in the cabinet of Sri Jawahar Lal Nehru proposed a 2640 km long Ganga-Cauvery link canal, with a view to withdraw 60,000 cusecs of flood flow of the Ganga near Patna for about 150 days in a year; pump about 50,000 cusecs of water over a head of 549 metres for transfer to the peninsular region. The remaining 10,000 cusecs was proposed to be  utilised in the Ganga basin itself. Rao had estimated that his proposal would cost about Rs 12,500 crore. At current price levels, the link would cost Rs 1,50,000 crore. The proposal was rejected by the Central Water Commission, which felt that it was economically prohibitive. Moreover, the scheme would require large blocks of power to lift water. Worse still, it would neither have flood control benefits, nor take care of the irrigation needs as no storage was involved. Also, the environmental impact of the scheme was not taken into account.

Dastur Plan for Garland canals– In 1977, ‘The Garland Canal Project’ was proposed by Dinshaw J. Dastur, a consultant engineer. It in­volved a total expenditure of Rs. 15,000 crores. The objectives of this Garland Canal Project was; to provide irrigation facilities to all parts of the country; to eliminate the vicious flood-drought circle and making a judicious utilization of surface water resources. The Project entailed; construction of two canals, namely; the Himalayan Catchment Canal and the Central Deccan and Southern Plateau Canal covering the entire coun­try. The alignment of the proposed Himalayan Catchment Canal was along the foothills of the Himalayas covering a length of 3,800 km from the river Ravi to Chittagong (in Bangladesh). It was proposed to be 300 meters wide and was proposed to be at a constant elevation of 1,000 meters above the Mean Sea  Level (MSL).To supplement the storage capacity of the canal, the canal was proposed to   harness and distribute the waters of the Himalayan Rivers including snow-melt. A series of reservoirs and integrated lakes were proposed  to be constructed in the route of the Canal in the catchment area. The storage capacity proposed to be built was 300 billion cubic meters (BCM).Similarly the Central Deccan and Southern Plateau Canal  was proposed to  connect all rain fed rivers of the region and start from the Chambal River and terminate at Kanya Kumari. This canal was proposed to be around 7600 km  long and its height was proposed to be at an elevation of 500 meters above the MSL. The canal’s alignment was in the form of a necklace and was proposed to have 2900 subsidiary outlets along its entire course. It will connect all the monsoon-fed rivers of the region. The total storage capacity was proposed to be built along the alignment of the canal was 1050 BCM  The Himalayan and Plateau canals were proposed to be connected at two places through a series of pipe lines where water was expected to flow by gravity from North to South. This Project envisioned transformation of the agricultural landscape of the country by ensuring irrigation of 2.1 million square km and the growth in gross agricultural income directly from the project to Rs. 2,70,000 crores per year. The project was also expected to control floods, mitigate droughts, generate hydro- electricity, promote aqua culture, help in afforestation, ensure di­versification of  agriculture, improve river transport and tourism. However, there is no doubt that the proposal was indeed over-ambitious and had a number of problems on account of its lack of practicality.

Developments to Create/Facilitate Inter-links

Based on various proposals in Aug 1980, the thenMinistry of Irrigation ( Now Ministry of Jal Shakti) of the Govt of India (GoI) put forth a revised National Perspective Plan (NPP). Theonly difference between the earlier proposals and the  NPP was that in the NPP the Himalayan and peninsular rivers were being treated separately and the linking was based on natural flow and gravity rather than physically lifting water through a series of pumps. And it was mentioned as inter basin transfer of water. To implement the NPP a national water Development authority (NWDA) was constituted under the Ministry of water resources in 1982. After due studies the NWDA has prepared reports on 14 Inter-link projects for the Himalayan rivers, 16 inter-link projects for the Peninsular rivers and 37 intrastate river linking projects. The river inter-linking idea was revived in 1999, but this time with a major strategic shift. The proposal was modified to intra-basin development as opposed to inter-basin water transfer. However there were divergent views about the studies and the feasibility studies prepared by NWDA. The supporters of the interlinking of rivers were of the view that this was the best way to conserve the abundant monsoon water bounty, store it in reservoirs, and deliver this water – using rivers inter-linking project – to areas and over times when water becomes scarce. The project is also seen to offer an alternative to road transport and a source of income to rural population through fish farming. Opponents are concerned about well-known environmental, ecological, social displacement impacts as well as unknown risks associated with tinkering with nature. It is also seen as a violation of UN Convention on the rights of riparian states in respect of Trans border water channels. With a view to bring  about a consensus, in 2002 a Task Force under the chairmanship of Sri Suresh Prabhu was constituted.  With the change of the govt at centre in 2004 the priority of the project was down-graded.

The rivers inter-linking feasibility reports completed by 2013 are as tabulated below:-


Inter-link project Length
Cost in the year 2003 or earlier#
New irrigation
capacity added
Electri-city generat-ion
Drink-ing &
Industr-ial water
added (MCM)
Krishna–Pennar Link 587.2 ₹6,599.80 crore 258,334 42.5 MW 56 Under Construction
Godavari–Krishna Link 299.3 ₹26,289 crore 287,305 70 MW 237 Completed
Parbati Kalisindh Chambal 243.7 ₹6,114.5 crore 225,992 17 MW 89
Nagarjunasagar Somasila Link 393 ₹6,320.54 crore 168,017 90 MW 124 Under Construction
Ken Betwa Link 231.5 ₹1,988.74 crore 47,000 72 MW 2,225 Under Construction
Srisailam Pennar Link 203.6 ₹1,580 crore 187,372 17 MW 49
Damanganga Pinjal Link 42.5 ₹1,278 crore 44
Kaveri-Vaigai-Gundar Link 255.6 ₹2,673 crore 337,717 185
Polavaram-Vijayawada Link 174 ₹1,483.91 crore 314,718 72 MW 664 Under Construction
Mahanadi Godavari Link 827.7 ₹17,540.54 crore(US$2.5 billion) 363,959 70 MW 802
Par Tapi Narmada Link 395 ₹6,016 crore 169,000 93 MW 91
Pamba Achankovil Vaippar Link 50.7 ₹1,397.91 crore 91,400 500 MW 150


The argument of those who are Opposed to Inter-links-Some activists and scholars have, between 2002 and 2008, questioned the merits of the project. Some of the objections/ queries were as follows:-

  • Whether the inter-linking project will deliver the benefits of flood control?
  • Whether uncertainty and unknowns about the operations have been thought through?
  • How much water will be shifted and when?
  • Whether this would cause waterlogging, salinity/alkalinity and the resulting desertification in the command areas of these projects?
  • Whether other technologies to address the cycle of droughts and flood havoc have been considered?
  • Has the phenomenon of rivers likely to change their courses every (approximately) 100 years (case in point is Ganges where change of main course has changed from Hooghly to Padma) been taken into account?
  • This set of people are also apprehending that Interlinking is likely to result into deforestation and as such may cause ecological imbalances. They have recommended that the Construction of environmentally benign multi-purpose freshwater coastal reservoirs to interlink the Indian rivers can fully meet irrigation, domestic, industrial, ecological, environmental, etc. water requirements without social displacement impacts, poor river and groundwater quality impacts and land or forest submergence with cheaper initial and operating costs. Their argument is that India is not running out of water whereas water is running out of India and that issue need to be addressed by creating more storage capacity. Such an arrangement, in their opinion, will help India to exploit the rain water in a better fashion. However, it needs to be noted that increasing storage capacity is one of the objective of the inter linking project.
  • Displacement of people and attended issues of rehabilitation are yet another aspect that needs to be taken note of and also its social impact- Argument has its pluses and minuses. These argument is based on conjectures rather than any evidence. If there are displaced people on account of Sardar Sarovar then the entire Punjab was rebuilt post river linking during last century. Even in the Sardar Sarovar issue while MP had problem Gujarat did not have any major problem. One important conclusion that can be drawn is that the location of reservoir affects the rehabilitation. Like in the case of the Ken- Betwa link some 9000 Hectares of land will be submerged but out of this 5800 hectares is forest land. Loss of such forest will be addressed through compensatory afforestation. Therefore there is a need to identify those areas for reservoirs where the population density is low.
  • One argument is often given by the anti inter linking lobby that the interlinking is likely to result into movement of aquatic ecosystems to move from one river to another but this argument is not a valid argument because such a movement will result into both positive as well as negative impact. In this connection, it can also be appreciated that the flora and fauna of the adjacent basins is quite similar.
  • The naysayers apprehend disruption of climate due to such transfers. It is relevant to note to cause such impacts transfer has to be substantial. However, in Indian context, volumes are quite low. As an example, the combined yield of Ganga and Brahmaputra is more than 1000 BCM, whereas the diversion is likely to be not more than 40 BCM/ year. Also even this water will finally empty into Bay of Bengal. As such it is unlikely that such a diversion will have any adverse impact. On the other hand it will benefit millions of farmers for irrigation of parched land  and provision of drinking water. Yet another example of benefits accruing to people is Ken- Betwa link. It will benefit farmers of Bundelkhand, Bina and upper Betwa basin. Besides addressing irrigation and drinking water  problems of the area it will help in the generation of power; both in terms of hydro as well as solar power.

Argument in support of the Interlinking

  • India’s population is growing exponentially. The population of India is expected to grow further, though, at a decelerating pace and stabilize around 1.5 billion by 2050, or another 300 million people – the size of the United States – compared to the 2011 census getting added every year. The gap between the availability of water and its requirement is rising and therefore there is a need to find ways and means to augment the supply. One of  the important methods is to create additional storage space, which in interlinking is inherent.
  • The rural population still banks substantially on a monsoon-based irrigation system for the Weather uncertainties, and the climate change-induced weather volatilities, raise concerns on account of floods and droughts on rural economy. This will increase demand for reliable sources of food and improved agriculture yields on a sustained basis – both of which, as per India’s National Council of Applied Economic Research, would require a significantly improved irrigation network.
  • The average rainfall in India is about 4,000 BCM, of which annual surface water flow in India is estimated at 1,869 BCM. Of this, for topological and other reasons, only about 690 BCM of the available surface water can be utilized for irrigation, industrial, drinking and groundwater replenishment purposes. In other words, about 1,100 BCM of water is available, on average, every year for irrigation in India. This amount of water is adequate for irrigating 140 million hectares. As of 2007, about 60% of this potential was realized through irrigation network or natural flow of Indian rivers, lakes and adoption of pumps to pull ground water for irrigation. A report published in 2007 has attempted to work out the cost and has concluded that in long run the benefits accruing from interlinking of rivers will outweigh the losses on account of ecological, geological, hydrological and economic reasons. However a word of caution, that some of the rivers like Ganges and Brahmaputra where the water availability also impacts the water which needs to be shared with a lower riparian state like Bangladesh needs to be judiciously appropriated, lest India is branded as a violator of UN Convention of 1997.
  • Cost of power generation by solar power can be reduced if the economy of scales is attempted. Availability of cheaper, cleaner and perennial/renewable power would favour more water-lifting/pumping and tunnels in the river link projects rather than purely gravity links to economize on cost, reduce construction time and reduce land submergence by optimum use of existing reservoirs/less storage, etc. Tunneling technology/methodology has also undergone drastic improvements to make them an alternate choice to the gravity open canal links with the shortest distance and cost-effective manner. It may also be noted that open canals result in plenty of water getting evaporated.
  • The National perspective plan envisions about185 BCM of water storage along with building inter-links. These storages and the interlinks will add nearly 210 BCM of water for beneficial uses in India, enabling irrigation over an additional area of 35 million hectares, generation of 40,000 MW capacity hydropower, flood control and other benefits.
  • The total surface water available in India is nearly 1776 BCM of which only 271 BCM was being used in the year 1979. The rest is neither utilized nor managed, and it causes disastrous floods year after year. Up to 1979, India had built over 600 storage dams with an aggregate capacity of 171 BCM. These small storages hardly enable a seventh of the water available in the country to be utilized beneficially to its fullest potential. From India-wide perspective, at least 946 BCM of water flow annually could be utilized in India, power generation capacity added and perennial inland navigation could be provided. Also, some benefits of flood control would be achieved. The project claims that the development of the rivers of the sub-continent, each state of India, as well as its international neighbors stand to gain by way of additional irrigation, hydropower generation, navigation and flood control provisions. An indirect benefit of the accretion of more irrigation will contribute towards the food security of India.
  • The Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghna is a major international drainage basin that carries more than 1233 BCM out of a total of 1776 BCM in India. Water is a scarce commodity and several basins such as Cauvery, Yamuna, Sutlej, Ravi and other smaller inter-State/intra-State rivers are short of water. 99 districts of the country are classified as drought-prone, an area of about 40 million hectares is prone to recurring floods. The inter-link project is expected to help reduce the scale of this suffering and associated losses.

National Perspective Plan-1980

The National Perspective Plan comprises of two main components and a third component which got added later in 2005:-

  • Himalayan Rivers Development.
  • Peninsular Rivers Development.
  • An intrastate component was added in 2005.

Himalayan Component-

Map-1: Ganges- Brahmaputra- Meghna Basin

Note: Colour Code for basins: Ganges- Yellow, Brahmaputra- Violet, Meghna- Green

Proposal for Himalayan Rivers– It envisages construction of storage reservoirs on the main channel of Ganga and the Brahmaputra and their principal tributaries in India and Nepal along with inter-linking canal system to transfer surplus flows of the eastern tributaries of the Ganga to the West apart from linking of the main Brahmaputra with the Ganga (this project has already been rejected in past by Bangladesh. Also water availability is generally reducing at Farakka and as such in 2026 when Indo Bangladesh Ganges Accord-1996 comes for review problems are expected) Apart from providing irrigation to an additional area of about 22 million hectares and generating about 30 million kilowatt (300GW) of hydro-power, it will provide substantial flood control in the Ganga-Brahmaputra basin. The Scheme will benefit not only the States in the Ganga-Brahmaputra Basin, but also Nepal and Bangladesh, assuming river flow management treaties are successfully negotiated. One of the advantage is that it will provide excess water for Farakka Barrage so that Water requirement to flush Hooghly is provided for and also additional water during lean season is made available to Bangladesh. However, success of this scheme depends on the support of Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh, which will not at all be easy.  (Ideally India needs to plan what it can do without involving Nepal or Bangladesh and within the provisions of the UN Convention of 1997 for trans- border channels-  Author’s comment)

Progress on the prosed Interlinks as on 2015

By 2015, the progress on fourteen inter-links under consideration for Himalayan component are as follows:-

  • Ghaghara–Yamuna link- Feasibility Report (FR) complete.
  • Sarda–Yamuna link- FR complete.
  • Yamuna–Rajasthan link- Draft FR completed.
  • Rajasthan–Sabarmati link- Draft FR completed.
  • Kosi–Ghaghara link- FR in Indian portion is in progress, however, it can be completed only if Nepal agrees to take up her part.
  • Kosi–Mechi link- Pre FR FR to be taken up. Case is resting with Nepal as the link lies in Nepal.
  • Manas–Sankosh–Tista–Ganga link- FR is in progress.
  • Jogighopa–Teesta–Farakka link- it has been decided that this project will not be taken up.
  • Ganga–Damodar–Subernarekha link- Draft FR completed.
  • Subernarekha–Mahanadi link- Draft FR completed.
  • Farakka–Sunderbans link- Draft FR completed.
  • Gandak–Ganga link- Draft FR for Indian portion is completed.
  • Chunar–Sone Barrage link- Draft FR Completed.
  • Sone dam–Southern tributaries of Ganga link- FR is in progress.


Source: National Water Development Agency: Note on interlinking of rivers projects in the Country Details and status

Peninsular Component

This Scheme is divided in four major parts.

  • Interlinking of Mahanadi-Godavari-Krishna-Palar-Pennar-Kaveri.
  • Interlinking of West Flowing Rivers, North of Mumbai and South of Tapi.
  • Inter-linking of Ken with Chambal.
  • Diversion of some water from West Flowing Rivers

This component will irrigate an additional 25 million hectares by surface waters, 10 million hectares by increased use of ground waters and generate hydro power, apart from benefits of improved flood control and regional navigation.

The main part of the project would send water from the eastern part of India to the South and West. The southern development project (Phase I) would consist of four main parts. First, the Mahanadi, Godavari, Krishna and Cauvery rivers will be interlinked by canals. Reservoirs and dams would be built along the course of these rivers. These would be used to transfer surplus water from the Mahanadi and Godavari rivers to the south of India. Under Phase II, some rivers that flow West to the North of Mumbai and the South of  Tapti would be inter-linked. Such reservoirs will cater for drinking water needs of Mumbai and irrigation needs of the coastal areas of Maharashtra. In next phase, rivers; Ken and Chambal will be connected. This link will cater for the water needs of Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. In the last phase a number of West flowing rivers in the Western Ghats will be interlinked with East flowing rivers such as Cauvery and Krishna to augment the sustained water availability in the region.    The Mahanadi- Godavari interlink will link River Sankosh originating in Bhutan and  forming border between Assam and West Bengal with Godavari in Andhra Pradesh through Teesta, Mahananda and Subarnarekha and Mahanadi.  Here, it may be noted that this kind of inter-basin transfer is not a new concept. In 1887Mulla Periyar dam was built and the waters of west-flowing rivers were transferred to East flowing Vaigai, thus helping to irrigate 68000hectares around Madurai. Similarly, Sutlej- Beas Link and Sardar Sahayak pariyojna, Sardar Sarovar Project, Kurnool- Cuddapa canal and may others which have been made are  functioning well.


Source: National Water Development Agency: Note on interlinking of rivers projects in the Country Details and status

The inter-links under consideration for Peninsular component are as follows, with respective status of feasibility studies:-

  • Almatti- Pennar Link-FR completed.
  • Inchampalli–PulichintalaLink  Merged with Inchampalli–Nagarjunasagar Link- FR completed.
  • Mahanadi–Godavari Link- FR completed.
  • Nagarjunasagar- Somasila Link – FR completed of the remodelled project and tunnel construction is at the Fag end.
  • Pamba–Anchankovil–Vaippar Link- FR completed.
  • Par–Tapi–Narmada Link- FR completed.
  • Parbati–Kalisindh–Chambal Link- FR completed.
  • Polavaram–Vijayawada Link- link canal constructed and partly in use.
  • Somasila–Grand Anicut Link- FR completed.
  • Srisailam–Pennar Link- link canals constructed and in use.
  • Damanganga–Pinjal Link- FR completed.
  • Kattalai–Vaigai–Gundar Link- FR completed.
  • Ken–Betwa Link- Feasibility study completed, and the work on phase -1 has commenced.
  • Netravati–Hemavati Link- Pre Feasibility Report completed.
  • Bedti–Varada Link- Pre Feasibility Report completed.

Intra-state inter-linking of rivers

Since water is an emotive issue, therefore it has been the experience, that interlinks where more than one state is involved the progress gets mired into disputes. Therefore in 2005 NWDA was asked to identify and thereafter do feasibility studies of the identified links within various states.   Puducherry proposed Pennaiyar – Sankarabarani link (even though it is not an intrastate project),  Bihar proposed 6 inter-linking projects, Maharashtra 20 projects, Gujarat 1 project, Orissa 3 projects, Rajasthan 2 projects, Jharkhand 3 projects and Tamil Nadu proposed 1 inter-linking proposal between rivers inside their respective territories.Of all these the  NWDA has found, so far, 20 projects feasible.  completed feasibility studies on the projects, found 1 project infeasible, 20 projects as feasible.

Experience of River Linking Projects in Other Parts of the World

The concept of river linking is not unique to India, there had been many example world over for river-linking which have been highly successful. Some of these are as follows:-

  • Rhine- Main- Danube Canal– It was completed in 1992. By this interlink, North Sea and Atlantic Ocean get connected to the Black Sea. This link is a source of navigation from Rhine Delta in the Netherlands to the Danube delta in East Romania. The canal is also a source for irrigation, industrial water and power generation plants which are located along this canal.
  • Illinois Waterway- It consists of 541 kilometres of interlink that connects a system of rivers, lakes, and canals to provide a shipping connection from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico via the Mississippi River. It provides a navigation route for coal, chemicals and petroleum upstream, and agriculture produce downstream primarily for export.This  Illinois  is the principal source of industrial and municipal services water needs along its way.
  • Tennessee- Tombigbee Waterway– It is a 377 kilometre man-made waterway that interlinks the Tennessee River to the Black Warrior-Tombigbee River in the United States. This links major coal-producing regions to coal consuming regions, and also for the cost effective  commercial navigation of timber and other industrial   It also is a major source of industrial water supply, public drinking water supply, and irrigation along its way.


There is always a perceptual incongruence between engineers and environmentalists about the concept of development. Engineers on an average think in terms of development by resorting to construction even if it happens at the cost of degradation to the environment but such an approach may lead to disaster if the ecology and environment is totally ignored. Case in point is the drying of Aral Sea in Central Asia which has resulted in disastrous consequences. On the other hand if we follow the approach of environmentalists about the development, then maybe plans would be conducive for healthy living but that’s about all because such plans may not be able to meet the requirements and aspirations of people. Therefore it is essential that  a syncretic approach is adopted while planning for development wherein the environmental concerns are not ignored.

Water is not only essential for life but it also plays an important role in providing livelihood to people. India is a peculiar country where due to the limitation of the storage of the rainwater majority of this gift of life by nature goes waste. Simultaneously rivers in the southern part of the country have a lesser quantity of water. While population growth is spurring the demand, climate change, pollution, poor watershed management and change in the crop pattern to more water-intensive varieties is adversely impacting the availability. Thus it is essential that we build infrastructure in such a way that sustained availability of water throughout the year is ensured throughout the country and ecology and environment is simultaneously nurtured in such a way that they contribute to the enhancement of the water availability. In fact Ecological Task Forces of the Territorial Army in Garhwal and Kumaon hills have gone for an afforestation and watershed management in such a way that in last three decades adverse impact of the global warming has substantially been attenuated. In this regard experience of the foreign countries and also the history of river linking projects in India ally the apprehensions of the environmentalists.

The geography of Indian Sub-Continent is such that the resources are monolithic and particularly rivers of North are such that any exploitation of these rivers will have to be done in conjunction with the other riparian state, namely; Pakistan in West and Nepal; Bhutan and Bangladesh in East.

River linking with environmental concerns substantially addressed is, therefore, an important step in the direction of achieving the optimal utilisation of the water resources of the country and the way ahead for addressing the water woes of the country. May be in some cases it will be required to be done in conjunction with the other riparian states. Also water being an emotive issue the concerns of states will also be required to be taken into account for an equitable water distribution. I recommend that this project should be taken up in phases. In first phase it should be within the state, in phase-2, interstate links like Ken -Betwa be attempted. In phase-3, inter-basin integration should be planned, because by the time phase-3 comes up for execution, many of the apprehensions of the stakeholders would have already been addressed and as such willing participation might become a reality.  The original date of the completion of the project was 2043. To me that appears to be a realistic one and efforts need to be made to stick to that date.


  1. Short notes on The Garland Canal System of Irrigation Article shared by K Raja and also available on https://www.preservearticles.com/notes/short-notes-on-the-garland-canal-system-of-irrigation/20326
  2. Ramaswamy R Iyer, “Linking rivers: vision or mirage?”, pub by Frontline dated 20 Dec 2002 available on https://frontline.thehindu.com/the-nation/article30246937.ece
  3. “Churning issue: Does the concept of interlinking India’s rivers hold water? The debate rages on…” Published in the Magazine Down to earth dated 30 Nov 2002 available on https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/churning-issue-15487
  4. Research Report 83 prepared by Upali A Amarasinghe et.al, “Spatial Variation in Water Supply and Demand across River Basins of India”pub by International Water Management Institute of Sri Lanka during 2005 available on http://www.iwmi.cgiar.org/Publications/IWMI_Research_Reports/PDF/pub083/RR83.pdf
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_rivers_interlinking_project#cite_note-ncaer-5.
  6. “Live Storage Capacity Estimates for Indian Dams Based on Outdated Data”, compiled by Science The Wire dated 02 Feb 2021 and available on https://science.thewire.in/environment/india-dying-dams-failing-reservoirs/
  7. Rohan D’Souza, “Our quest to control rivers doesn’t account for the stiff ecological cost” pub in The Times of India, Lucknow dated 07 May 2021.
  • A report prepared by South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People SANDRP New Delhi, “It does not rain on Rivers alone; Rivers don’t carry water alone: The Mindlessness called River Linking Proposals” during May 2003 available on https://sandrp.files.wordpress.com/2018/03/ilrprpsl.pdf
  1. AB Pandya, “With uneven rain, river linking only way to ensure equitable distribution of water”, pub in the Times of India, page-8 dated 07 May 2021.
  2. Anil Kumar Mishra et. al., “Proposed river-linking project of India: a boon or bane to nature”, pub by Springer in Environment Geology 51 dated 29 Jul 2006
  3. Note of National Water Development Agency, “ Note on interlinking of rivers projects in the Country Details and status
  4. Sujit Bijoy, “Centre revises interlinking project”, pub in the Times of India dated 04 Feb 2016 available on https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bhubaneswar/Centre-revises-river-linking-project/articleshow/50844861.cms
  5. Bela Vitanayi, “Legal Problems in Connection with the Deep Draught Rhine- Main- Danube Navigable Waterway after the Additional Protocol to the Act of Mannheim available on https://www.zaoerv.de/41_1981/41_1981_4_a_731_807.pdf
  6. The United States Army Corps of Engineers Chapter Six available on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Army_Corps_of_Engineers
  7. Jared K. Mckee et. al., Water Budget of Tombigbee River – Tenn-Tom Waterway from Headwaters to Junction with Black Warrior River”, funded by Northern Gulf Institute dated 01 dec 2008 and available on https://www.gri.msstate.edu/publications/docs/2009/01/5671Tenn-Tom%20Water%20Budget%202009.01.09.pdf

[1]Anthropogenic influence: The term designates an effect or object resulting from human activity. It is sometimes used in the context of pollution produced from human activity since the start of the Agricultural Revolution but also applies broadly to all major human impacts on the environment.

[2]Environmental flows describe the quantity, timing, and quality of water flows required to sustain fresh water and estuarine ecosystems and the human livelihoods and wellbeing that depend on these ecosystems.

Author – Maj Gen AK Chaturvedi, AVSM, VSM (Retd)  is a retired Indian Army General Officer who has served in Jammu & Kashmir, NE, Andman Nikobar on various appointments at Command and Army HQs. . He is Vice Chairman of Think Tank, “STRIVE”,  after retirement is pursuing his favorite hobby of writing for newspapers, journals, and think tanks.

Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the organisation that he belongs to or of the STRIVE.

4 thoughts on “On the watershed leading to Interlinking of Rivers in India By Major General AK Chaturvedi (Retd)

  • May 22, 2021 at 11:13 pm

    Well researched and highly educative article. One of the most important concerns in India. Comprehensive and timely subject.

    • May 23, 2021 at 5:35 am

      Thank you Sushil! The topic needs to be discussed more in open domain so that a consensus is built on the subject

  • May 22, 2021 at 8:16 pm

    One more set of comments have been received wherein the questioner had wanted me to allude to the role played by the PM during NDA-1 and the Honourable SC. He also wanted me to address the role of NIRA.
    It is true that Sri Atal Behari Vajpayee was a great voters to the project and he pushed it to centre. He formed A task force under Sri Suresh Prabhu was formed it was to the credit of this Task Force was to shift the focus to intra basin linkages more and even more here inter basin transfer was to be done it was decided that it will be done under natural flow.
    There was a PIL filed in SC to issue directions on the subject. SC in their judgement in 2012 refused to issue directions as in their wisdom
    They found the subject in the domain of legislature. However they wanted the Govt to progress it quickly.
    As far as NIRA ( National interlinking of river authority) is being formed by the current Govt ( Cabinet Note has been prepared and likely to be issued shortly). This Authority will be the sole authority to generate funds and execute the projects.
    Yet another question related to silting of dams. Yea it is a typical problem of Northern Rivers. Only solution is the regular desilting of reservoirs as well as affected rivers. For this a separate Desilting authority be created. The argument of one of the reader that floods are good to revive soil health is fallacious. We can reduce the probability of floods by regular desilting and sharing this silt with formers who can use it for rejuvenation of soil.

  • May 22, 2021 at 8:37 am

    I got some interesting comments and some comments based on pre conceived notions. While it is futile to comment on prejudiced views because a logical argument can be answered but if you are dealing with a loses mind then you would be wasting your breath.
    Interesting observations by Sanjay Mohan were very relevant. He flagged two advantages which this project may result into:-
    1. It will be able generate plenty of jobs.
    2. Inter links in Gujarat and Rajasthan will add to artificial obstacle system which india would be needing in case of a conflict with our western adversary.
    Thanks Sanjay your both observations are valid will further add value to those who are arguing for its implementation HUI

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