The interlinking of rivers (ILR) programme just got resuscitated from oblivion by Indias apex court, which has asked the Centre to set up a special committee (comprising representatives from various Union ministries and state governments as well as social activists and experts) to take firm steps to revive the programme whose cost was estimated at R5,60,000 crore when the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government got it studied. Of course, the project deadline then proposed was 2016, but this is just as unrealistic now as the original budget. To comply with the Supreme Court judgment, the government must expedite new studies to estimate everything from financial cost to the number of people that will be displaced. It must also make the political calculations that will make ILR feasible while states remain embattled over so many existing projects like in the Cauvery Basin and the Krishna Basin. Last but by no means the least, environmental feasibility will have to be addressed in a climate that is very different from the one where the Bhakra dam was constructed and celebrated.
Other than painting a paradise of increased agricultural productivity, decreased inflation and general GDP accretion, ILR supporters point to inter-basin storage capacity achievements elsewhere in the world, as in Australia and China. But the latter claims must be ingested with large doses of salt. The Murray Darling Basin Plan is being damned by many as both a waste of taxpayers money and unfriendly to the health of the river system. The Three Gorges dam, it is increasingly felt, may actually have lowered water levels in two of Chinas biggest freshwater lakes, had a deleterious effect on regional climate and significantly increased seismic activity. Can India afford such experiments The UPA-2 doesnt really have the environmental, political and fiscal capital necessary to link all the rivers from the Ganges to the Cauvery.