Speak Out Against Interlinking Rivers: Sign Memorandum to Indian Government sign now

Speak Out Against Interlinking Rivers A Memorandum to Indian Government

In 2003, the Government of India started planning a national river grid, by interlinking 37 rivers through 30 links, dozens of large dams and thousands of miles of canals, making it the largest water project in the world. Many independent groups and experts, closely studying the project point out disastrous and irreversible ecological, social and financial consequences for our country (see References below). A shocking aspect of the ILR is that it is being promoted as the only solution without making public the various feasibility reports and studies for a critical and thorough evaluation.

On June 8, 2005, the Standing Committee on Water Resources headed by Mr. R. Sambasiva Rao (MP and Chairman) had invited suggestions and comments on the ILR to be submitted in a memorandum before July 8, 2005. We urge you to sign this detailed Memorandum to be submitted to the Committee, so that our concerns will be heard at the highest level. A strong response from us could prevent this disastrous initiative!


Shri. R. Sambasiva Rao, Chairman & Member of Parlaiment
Standing Committee on Water Resources,
Government of India,
New Delhi

Sub: Concerns from Indians around the world on the Interlinking of Rivers (ILR) project

Dear Honble M.P. Mr. R. Sambasiva Rao,

As citizens living in India and abroad committed to Indias development, we are extremely concerned about the proposed Interlinking of Rivers (ILR) project. We have been following the developments on the ILR project very closely and have also studied various statements from the Government and other independent experts in the country. While we wholeheartedly share the aims of strengthening our agriculture and providing food security and drinking water to all our citizens, we find it alarming that ILR is being proposed as the solution to all these challenges. We take this opportunity to submit a detailed memorandum of our concerns on the ILR.

Our main demands from the Government of India are as follows:

1. The Interlinking Rivers plan should not be projected as an inevitable national priority. Instead, it should be considered a proposal in the true sense which is open to debate and thorough scrutiny with public participation at all levels.
2. All reports on ILR, including the pre-feasibility and feasibility studies should be made fully public with immediate effect.
3. Each individual link should be critically examined, with public hearings and assessment of alternative options, instead of being considered fait accompli.
4. More resources need to be allocated for studies and implementation of time-proven sustainable approaches for managing water resources
5. Prior informed consent to be obtained from all project-affected people before embarking work on any of the links.
6. An undertaking from the Government that no part of any river will be privatized.

Listed below are just some of our serious questions and concerns on the ILR:

1. Lack of Transparency and Non-Availability of Feasibility Reports
While the government claims that the 30 pre-feasibility studies and 8 feasibility studies have been completed, the reports have not been made public despite repeated requests. Recently, the report on Ken-Betwa link has been made public1, however it was found to be seriously wanting by the experts who have studied it. Detailed reports by respected independent groups like SANDRP [2] have shown that the project is critically flawed. This is all the more reason why the reports on other links should be made available for scrutiny by the public and independent experts.

2. Highly Exaggerated Claimed Benefits
The ILR plan has been hyped as a panacea for all problems of flood and drought, and also promises to bring irrigation to 34 million hectares and generate 34,000 MW power1. It is claimed that this will double the food production to 450 million tones, and this is projected as the rationale. While the government has not shown how these figures are arrived at, preliminary analysis shows that these claims are highly exaggerated. For example, in a project that involves lifting and tunneling, experts question the possibility of generating any surplus power, let alone 34000 MW.[3]Similarly, with the low irrigation efficiency [4] of 20-35\% and problems of water-logging and salination, the actual realized benefits are likely to be much lower.

3. Ecological Issues
ILR is based on a fundamentally flawed understanding of river systems - that an enormous amount of our river water flows 'waste into the sea, that floods should be eliminated. BY stopping flow of river into the sea by intensive damming and diversion, river systems will be altered catastrophically affecting the formation of deltas, leading to destruction of fisheries and seawater ingress. Experience shows that flood control using dams and embankments has not been effective[6], and experts now stress on 'managing' floods rather than 'preventing' them. Further, about 50,000 Ha of forests will be submerged by ILR1.

4. Economic Issues
The official estimate of the cost is Rs. 560,000 crores1 or $130 billion, while the government acknowledged in 2003 that the actual cost might double. This cost does not include yearly inflation, costs of ecology, environment, wildlife, resettlement and rehabilitation of displaced people! This exorbitant amount is 1/4th of Indias annual GDP and more than twice the entire irrigation budget of India since 1950! It is bound to push the country into more debt and might lead to privatization of our water resources denying basic water access to the poor.

5. Social Issues
It is estimated that ILR would require 8000 square kilometers of land [5], submerging thousands of villages and towns, thousands of hectares of agricultural lands, and displacing millions of people, mostly of the poorer sections. The history of rehabilitation in India has been dismal, a fact that was reconfirmed by the recent Supreme Court judgment in the Narmada rehabilitation case. Hence, there is no reason to believe that this is going to be any better.

6. Political Issues
Almost all States are involved in river-water sharing disputes and the ILR would only intensify the situation. Some State governments have rhetorically spoken in favor of the plan, but oppose those links where they need to give water. The estimates of surplus of the NWDA are hotly contested by the States and riparian issues within States will only mount. The Himalayan component of ILR faces international water-sharing issues, involving Nepal and Bangladesh.

7. Experiences Worldwide
Large scale river diversions and long-distance water transfer projects have been attempted in other countries, and have proved to be ecologically disastrous with short-lived benefits. In many cases, enormous efforts and funds are being spent in reversing the damaging effects of the projects, for example, the cases of Aral Sea5 basin and the Colorado basin[4].

A more sustainable and sensible approach to water management needed
The need is for making choices that are sustainable, and benefit the most needy, while taking care of our rivers, instead of announcing the ILR as the blanket solution for all problems. There are several success stories in this regard. Numerous community water harvesting initiatives[7] in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan and other parts of the country have made villages self-reliant with respect to their drinking water and irrigation needs. Watershed development can be planned at various scales going up to sub-basin or basin level. Sustainable small and medium-scale efforts should receive more government support, and a few judiciously planned bigger projects could augment them. In other words, there is a strong case to reverse the current prioritization of water projects! Further, water usage could be planned at local level, giving preference to drinking water needs, crops which consume less water, and food security over commercial crops.

In summary, we would like to see that our water resources are used judiciously to meet the basic needs of all Indians and that our agriculture and food security are strengthened. However, analysis seems to make it clear that ILR is not the way to achieve that. We hope to see in this Governments initiative, a significant change in approach so that development initiatives undertaken for the national good serve the poorest of the poor and are more environment-friendly.

Your sincerely
Concerned citizens.

1. ILR Task force website www.riverlinks.nic.in
2. Ken Betwa Link: Why it wont click: South Asian Network of Dams Rivers and People, Dec 2003
3. Interlinking of Indias Rivers: Some Issues by R. Ramaswamy Iyer, former Union Secy., Water Resources, June 2003
4. Silenced Rivers The Ecology and politics of large dams, Patrick McCully
5. Essays from Riverlinking A Millennium Folly? Edited by Medha Patkar
6. Land and Water: Towards a Policy for Life-Support Systems, B.B. Vohra, quoting National Commission on Floods
7. Centre for Science and Environment's Rainwater Harvesting website: http://www.rainwaterharvesting.org

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Claudine BlevinsBy:
Petition target:
Government of India


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