Ganga-Cauvery River Link

The Need for Interlinking of the Ganga and Cauvery Rivers

Ganga-Cauvery link: Need for River Linking Project

The rainfall over the country is primarily orographic, associated with tropical depressions originating in the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. The summer monsoon accounts for more than 85 per cent of the precipitation. The uncertainty of occurrence of rainfall marked by prolonged dry spells and fluctuations in seasonal and annual rainfall is a serious problem for the country. Large parts of Haryana, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are not only in deficit in rainfall but also subject to large variations, resulting in frequent droughts and causing immense hardship to the population and enormous loss to the nation. The water availability even for drinking purposes becomes critical, particularly in the summer months as the rivers dry up and the ground water recedes. Regional variations in the rainfall lead to situations when some parts of the country do not have enough water even for raising a single crop. On the other hand excess rainfall occurring in some parts of the country create havoc due to floods.

Irrigation using river water and ground water has been the prime factor for raising the food grain production in our country from a mere 50 million tonnes in the 1950s to more than 200 million tonnes at present, leading us to attain self sufficiency in food. Irrigated area has increased from 22 million hectares to 95 million hectares during this period. The population of India, which is around 1000 million at present, is expected to increase to 1500 to 1800 million in the year 2050 and that would require about 450 million tonnes of food grains. For meeting this requirement, it would be necessary to increase irrigation potential to 160 million hectares for all crops by 2050. Indias maximum irrigation potential that could be created through conventional sources has been assessed to be about 140 million hectares. For attaining a potential of 160 million hectares, other strategies shall have to be evolved.

Floods are a recurring feature, particularly in Brahmaputra and Ganga rivers, in which almost 60 per cent of the river flows of our country occur. Flood damages, which were Rs. 52 crores in 1953, have gone up to Rs. 5,846 crores in 1998 with annual average being Rs. 1,343 crores affecting the States of Assam, Bihar, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh alongwith untold human sufferings. On the other hand, large areas in the States of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu face recurring droughts. As much as 85 percentage of drought prone area falls in these States.

One of the most effective ways to increase the irrigation potential for increasing the food grain production, mitigate floods and droughts and reduce regional imbalance in the availability of water is the interlinking of rivers to transfer water from the surplus rivers to deficit areas. Brahmaputra and Ganga “particularly their northern tributaries, Mahanadi, Godavari and West Flowing Rivers originating from the Western Ghats are found to be surplus in water resources. If we can build storage reservoirs on these rivers and connect them to other parts of the country, regional imbalances could be reduced significantly and lot of benefits by way of additional irrigation, domestic and industrial water supply, hydropower generation, navigational facilities etc. would accrue.

Courtesy: Government of India – Task Force on Interlinking of Rivers

Ganga-Cauvery link: A master plan for growth

H. A. C. Prasad (October 28, 2002)

The permanent solution for two recurring problems of India – water scarcity in the Southern rivers and the floods that affect North India – lies in linking the Ganga with the Cauvery. This proposal, which is again gaining currency, can be a massive poverty-alleviating and employment-generating project. Also, it can be designed to achieve higher growth of GDP and per capita GDP, and, at the same time, solve the Cauvery water dispute.

The master plan, which got some publicity during 1977, has been gathering dust since then. This plan, if implemented, besides providing irrigational facilities and flood control, will deliver a host of other benefits. Also, all the three sectors – agriculture, manufacturing and services – will benefit from the project.

Dr K L Rao, based on some earlier work in the Central Water Commission, proposed a National Water Grid for providing navigation and ameliorating spatial disparities between river basins. His plan envisaged a Ganga-Cauvery link taking off near Patna and passing, en route, through the basins of the Sone, the Narmada, the Tapti, the Godavari, the Krishna, and the Pennar, before joining the Cauvery upstream of the Grand Anicut.

The 2,640 km link involved withdrawal of 1,680 M{+3}/S (60,000 cusecs) of flood flows from the Ganga for about 150 days a year. Out of this, 1,400 M{+3}/S (50,000 cusecs) was to be pumped to the peninsular region, and the balance utilised within the Ganga basin itself. The proposal aimed at utilising 2.59 Mham of Ganga waters to irrigate an additional area of 4 Mha. However, a detailed examination later revealed that the proposal was very expensive and lower-cost alternatives were available.

Today, this basic idea has to be developed taking into account the current needs and developments. In fact, the plan should be devised in such a way that the project links the “soil-rich but poor rainfed” areas such as Bijapur-Gulbarga of north Karnataka and the backward Telangana region in Andhra Pradesh. The existing plans of the National Water Development Agency to link different water basins should also be taken account.

The master plan involves the construction of dams at appropriate places. But this should be done not only to irrigate vast tracts of land, but also develop different service industries such as tourism. Furthermore, industrial clusters and special development zones should be set up. With the master plan, India can become a major exporter of agricultural products. The different benefits and problems of this project are as follows:

Flood control
Floods ravage north India, leading to large-scale loss of life, crops, buildings, and cattle. This can be avoided if the master plan is implemented.

The master plan will generate employment for workers, technicians, engineers, planners, and administrators, to name a few. For another 10-15 years, people in the States – where the plan is implemented – need not fear unemployment. The secondary employment generation effects will be in the form of growth of ancillary activities needed to supply inputs and services, such as machines, transport, and communication services, to execute the master plan. If, good planning and vision link this to the development of suitable industrial, and services clusters, it can be a permanent source of employment.

Economic growth
The master plan can lead to the growth of the economy. The GDP, and per capita GDP, will automatically increase with rising farm incomes, and the additional income of people employed under this plan, and in other sectors supplying goods and services for it. On the whole, we can achieve a very high growth rate, both in the near and distant future, due to the increased planned productive investment with a very high linkage effect. Then, not only can the growth rate of 8 per cent be achieved in the tenth Plan, but it may also match the Japanese growth rate of the 1960s and the early 1970s.

Agricultural Sector
The master plan is primarily designed to benefit the agricultural sector, which will witness a higher growth rate. Not only will farm income increase, but additional employment, which will help underemployed farmers, and unemployed or partially employed agricultural labourers, will be generated. Vast tracts of fertile land, which were hitherto not cultivable due to drought and poor irrigation facilities, can be used for farming.

Construction of dams and hydel stations will give a fillip to the industrial sector, and lead to growth in this sector as well. The large-scale demand for cement will help the cement units to use their full capacity and achieve economies of scale, which will make them more cost-competitive in the export sector.

Removal of inter-regional disparities
The master plan, designed to help the backward regions, will help reduce inter-regional disparities, and trigger another green revolution. Also, the backward regions, such as Telangana in Andhra Pradesh, North Karnataka, and some parts of Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, can be developed. This will not only reduce inter-regional disparities, but also act as a powerful force of national integration.

The master plan will help the States generate more power than required, and the excess can be transferred to other States which are in need of it. This will help in compensating the imbalance caused by the special emphasis given to the beneficiary states. Besides, the excess power can also be used for railway locomotives, to save other sources of energy. The export sector will also benefit if adequate and cheap power is available.

Productive populist measures
Under the master plan, productive populist measures such as one employment per family can be given. But when this measure is implemented, all other non-productive populist measures should be cancelled, and the money saved therein should be diverted to this programme.

Since employment under the master plan is mainly designed to help the agricultural labourers, poor workers and unemployed or under employed members of small and marginal farms, the resentment against cancelling other populist measures will subside. Moreover, this will be in conformity with the policy of any government that is committed to helping the agricultural sector.

Poverty alleviation
Given the limited scope for transfer of land, the economic condition of the poor will be determined mainly by the type and duration of employment they get, and the real wage rate they are paid. With remunerative wages and assured employment, the master plan can go a long way in alleviating poverty. Besides, the spread effects of this plan can lead to higher employment and income in other sectors, further helping in poverty alleviation.

Export-related activities can be developed on the route where the link is to be established. Availability of power and water would be an added attraction, and any plan to promote exports, under this objective plan of development, will be WTO-compatible, as it will fall under non-specific aid on a horizontal basis.

Services sector
The services sector will further develop due to this project and a plan for services exports, including hospitality services, can be drawn up in places where the rivers are connected.

Some major problems in implementing the master plan However, the master plan is not without its share of problems. Some of the problems are listed below.

Construction of big dams may require large-scale felling, and cause earthquakes. . In the eventuality of very adverse ecological effects, the possibility of constructing a chain of small dams should be examined. The people affected by the construction of dams will have to be rehabilitated. It has been reported that at one place there may be a need to pump water to a slightly higher place. In such a case, the installation of a captive power station at this place has to be examined.

However, the project does not involve technological problems of a radically different nature from other major water resource projects, and is well within the capability of Indian engineering. Countries like China have undertaken such big projects and it is not an impossible task.

It may be difficult to complete the master plan in five years. However, a 10-year plan or a 10-year perspective-plan, including the master plan, should be formulated. But delays should be avoided and the plan has to be implemented in record time to avoid escalation of costs, and reap the benefits quickly.

Thus, the master plan of linking the Ganga with the Cauvery not only helps in achieving growth with equity, but also helps in solving many other problems affecting the Indian economy, paving the way for a strong, self-reliant, and resilient economy. This, of course, is the equivalent of `Rama Rajya’ in Hindu mythology, but to achieve it we need capital. This may not be too difficult in the present world order, though it was considered almost impossible earlier.

The possibility of procuring aid from the World Bank, and other financial institutions, should be explored. Besides tapping international finance, if the funds devoted for different Central and State programmes covering employment, poverty alleviation, irrigation, energy, regional development, agriculture, and industry are diverted towards the master plan, a substantial amount can be collected.

This, of course, involves the following of a zero-based budgeting technique in the light of the master plan, and an evaluation of existing schemes. The reduction in government staff, if implemented strictly, can also help in saving money, which can be used for this project. Many committees, such as the Venkatachaliah Committee and the Expenditure Reforms Committee, have suggested reduction in government staff. Another method can be by privatising the CGHS (Central Government Health Service) scheme that will lead to the availability of a lot of land and buildings, which can be sold, and the resources used for this project.

Finally, the money which would otherwise be spent, in the future, for flood control, and drought relief in the beneficiary States can be included while working out the budget for the master plan. This project can be successful if implemented with vision and dynamism. There is need for a task force with engineers – to make the physical plan – and economists, to make the economic plans, which includes considering the linkage effects, and drawing plans for the future with vision. But the most important requisite is strong political will.

(The author is Economic Adviser in the Department of Commerce, Ministry of Commerce and Industry. The views expressed here are personal and need not necessarily reflect the entire views of

Map of the Cauvery River

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