Interlinking of Rivers UPSC: National River Linking Project, Advantages and Challenges

By BYJU'S Exam Prep

Updated on: November 14th, 2023

Interlinking of Rivers refers to inter-basin water transfers between two or more rivers through human interference with natural systems. Sir Arthur Cotton, the Madras Presidency’s Chief Engineer, was the one who first proposed the idea of river linking in 1919. The monsoon season in India lasts from June to September, and the majority of the country’s rainfall occurs in the north and east, with rainfall in the south and west being relatively modest. These locations will experience a water deficit. The Interlinking of Rivers will enable these areas to get water all year round.

River Linking is an important step for a country like India. Through the article, we will discuss the concept of River Linking, the National River Linking Project, the National Interlinking of Rivers Authority (NIRA), and the Ken-Betwa Interlinking of Rivers project. Study the topic in depth for the upcoming UPSC Exams.

Interlinking of Rivers

Sir Arthur Cotton, the Madras Presidency’s Chief Engineer, was the one who first proposed the idea of Interlinking of Rivers in 1919. When KL Rao was the state’s minister of energy and irrigation in 1960, he again advocated joining the Ganga and Cauvery rivers.

  • Former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi founded the National Water Development Agency in 1982.
  • The government was ordered by the Supreme Court in 2002 to complete a plan for the river linking project by 2003 and put it into action by 2016.
  • The SC once more urged the government to begin the project in 2012.
  • The Ken-Betwa River Linking Project received Cabinet clearance in 2014.

Idea Behind Interlinking of Rivers

The idea behind river linking is that many areas of the country have drought issues while many others deal with flooding annually. A fair distribution of river waters will result from the interlinking of rivers in India.

  • Since the Himalayan glaciers and rains feed the Indo-Gangetic rivers, they are perennial.
  • However, because they are primarily supplied by rain from the southwest monsoons, India’s peninsular rivers are not seasonal.
  • As a result, the peninsular states experience droughts while the Indo-Gangetic lowlands experience floods.
  • Floods and droughts may be greatly reduced if this extra water could be moved from the Plains to the Peninsula.

National River Linking Project (NRLP)

By connecting Indian rivers, the National River Linking Project aims to transmit water from a basin with abundant water to one with a shortage. NRLP, formerly known as the National Perspective, intends to link 14 Himalayan and 16 peninsular rivers with 30 canals and 3,000 reservoirs to create a massive South Asian Water Grid.

There are two components of the National River Linking Project, namely:

Himalayan Component

  • This part proposes to build storage reservoirs on the Ganga, Brahmaputra, and their tributaries in Nepal and India.
  • By doing so, the Mahanadi basin will be joined to the Ganga and Brahmaputra basins.
  • Additionally, it will link the Chambal and Sabarmati river systems with the eastern tributaries of the Ganga.

Peninsular Component

  • It has 16 linkages that aim to unite the South Indian rivers.
  • The Krishna, Pennar, Cauvery, and Vaigai rivers would be nourished by interlinking the Mahanadi and Godavari.
  • Linking the Betwa, Parbati, Kalisindh, and Chambal rivers to the Ken river.
  • Linking rivers that go west from Tapi to Bombay in the north.
  • interlinking a few rivers that flow west to rivers that flow east.

Interlinking of Rivers

The National Water Development Agency (NWDA), a division of the Ministry of Jal Shakti, oversees the NRLP. To undertake surveys and evaluate the viability of ideas for connecting river projects, the NWDA was established in 1982.

According to recent reports, the Center is considering establishing a National River Interlinking Authority (NIRA). It will have the authority to create SPVs for specific connectivity projects.

National Interlinking of Rivers Authority (NIRA)

A Government of India Secretary-rank officer will serve as the organization’s head and coordinating body for all river linking projects. The National River Interlinking Authority (NIRA) will oversee the design, research, funding, and execution of all national river interlinking projects.

The new National River Authority (NIRA) will take the place of the current National Water Development Agency (NWDA), coordinate with neighboring nations, concerned states, and departments, and have authority over matters about environmental, wildlife, and forest clearances under river linking projects as well as their legal aspects.

  • The NIRA will be able to raise money and serve as a bank for borrowed money, money placed on deposits, and loans with interest.
  • Additionally, it can create Special Purpose Vehicles (SPV) for specific link projects.

Ken-Betwa River Interlinking Project

Given that the Centre would cover 90% of the expense, the Ken-Betwa project has the character of a national project. It is also the nation’s first significant, centrally-driven river interlinking project. The initiative will open the door for other river projects in India to be connected. The finance and implementation of the Ken-Betwa interlinking of rivers project have been approved by the Union Cabinet.

  • The water-scarce Bundelkhand region, which is located over the states of MP and UP, will greatly benefit from this project, which entails moving water from the Ken to the Betwa River.
  • The project will be carried out by the Ken-Betwa Link Project Authority (KBLPA), a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV). The project has an eight-year deadline.
  • Additionally, this project makes extensive provisions for environmental management and protection.
  • A thorough landscape management plan is being finalized for this purpose by the Wildlife Institute of India.

Advantages of Interlinking of Rivers

The advantages of the river linking project are

  • Hydrological Imbalance: With an actual rainfall duration of 28 to 29 days, India has a significant hydrological imbalance. While some locations experience droughts, others receive very abundant rainfall. Interlinking would move water from areas that flood to those that experience drought.
  • Benefits of irrigation: In the water-scarce western peninsula, the interlinking of rivers offers the ability to irrigate 35 million hectares of land. This will assist India in increasing farm incomes, crop outputs, and jobs. Above all, India will get closer to achieving food security thanks to the interconnected rivers.
  • Water supply: A 90 billion cubic meter supply of pure drinking water is planned as part of the project. It can solve India’s drinking water shortage problem. The interconnection of rivers may deliver 64.8 billion cubic meters of water for industrial purposes. In addition, interlinking can safeguard wildlife in the summer due to water scarcity and aid in the survival of fisheries.
  • Inland navigation improvement: A network of navigational channels will be created if rivers interlink. Compared to roads and railroads, water transportation is more affordable and less polluting. Additionally, the interlinking of rivers can lessen the strain on highways and trains.
  • Generation of power: The interlinked rivers can produce 34 GW of power altogether. India will benefit from a decrease in the use of coal-fired power plants. Additionally, it will assist in achieving India’s goals outlined in the Paris Agreement and the Glasgow Climate Pact.

Challenges of the River Linking Project

The interlinking of rivers project has a variety of challenges, namely:

  • Project viability: The projected cost of the project is Rs.5.6 lakh crores. Huge structures are also necessary to add to that. All of this calls for strong engineering skills. The expense and labor needed are, therefore, enormous.
  • Impact on the environment: The massive project will change entire ecosystems. Such relocations and alterations will harm the river systems’ animals, flora, and fauna. Many national parks and wildlife sanctuaries are located along river systems. When putting the idea into action, all of these factors will need to be considered. The project may decrease the amount of freshwater entering the ocean, impacting marine aquatic species.
  • Effect on society: Many people would be uprooted due to the construction of dams and reservoirs. Many people will experience great pain as a result of this. They must receive the necessary rehabilitation and compensation.
  • Controlling floods: Some people have expressed skepticism about this project’s potential to reduce flooding. India’s experience has been different, even though it is technically conceivable. Large dams like the Hirakud Dam, the Damodar Dam, and others have occasionally caused flooding in states like West Bengal and Odisha.
  • Interstate disputes: The river interlinking project has been challenged by many states, including Kerala, Sikkim, and Andhra Pradesh. The linked article has more information about interstate river disputes in India.
  • International disputes: The project’s Himalayan component’s construction of dams and connection of rivers will impact the surrounding nations. When carrying out the project, this will need to be considered. The flow of water from the Brahmaputra to the Ganga has been resisted by Bangladesh.

Future of Interlinking of Rivers

River interlinking offers advantages and disadvantages. Still, because of the potential economic, political, and environmental repercussions, it might not be a good idea to implement this project at a centralized national level.

To lessen floods and droughts, decentralized river interlinking and more environmentally friendly strategies like rainwater collection may be undertaken – A project to join the Ken and Betwa Rivers, for instance.

Interlinking of Rivers UPSC

The Interlinking of Rivers can be studied under the environment section of the UPSC Syllabus. Recently, there has been a lot of discussion on the river linking projects, and one can study the same in the Current Affairs. The River Linking concept can also be studied from the Geography Notes as well.

River Linking Project UPSC Question

Question: Consider the following statements about the Ken-Betwa River linking project:

  1. The project aims to transfer surplus water from the Betwa River to the Ken basin.
  2. The project aims to irrigate India’s worst drought-prone Bagelkhand region.
  3. It will submerge the Kanha Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh.

Which of the above statements is/are correct?

  1. 1 and 2 only
  2. 2 and 3 only
  3. 1, 2 and 3
  4. None

Answer: Option D

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