Interlinking of major rivers in India, aimed at modifying the acute spatial inequity in the availability of water resources in India, has its origin in the ideas of K.L.Rao and Captain Dastur, in the form of Ganga-Cauvery Link Canal and the Garland Canal respectively. Both these ideas were considered to be mere dreams and not feasible projects by the Ministry of Water Resources. In recent years, the National Water Development Agency (NWDA) has come up with a proposal for a set of inter-basin transfer canals. The Supreme Court has asked that these projects of inter-basin transfers be completed in the next 10 years or so.
While the urgency for assured supply of domestic water needs for all citizens of India is unquestionably accepted, the present paper examines whether the proposed inter-basin water transfer project provides the best mechanism to address this question in terms of environmental sustainability, regional equity and economical feasibility. In the total absence of technical data and feasibility studies from the public domain, the paper, after examining the available ideas and information on the interlinking project, takes the position that supply of domestic water needs could be better assured with the help of much less costly water harvesting and consumption projects at local levels.
The paper then questions the wisdom of extending irrigation facilities to the drier areas, instead of promoting watershed management for increasing food production. Instead the increased food production, if at all needed, can come from more efficient water management and productivity increase in the presently irrigated areas. The paper then finds the only justification for the proposed project on interlinking in making more water available to the western and southern parts of India, for diversified and highly lucrative use of land and for industrial uses.
The paper identifies the various social and environmental costs to be generated by the proposed project and questions the logic behind the investment of public funds to meet the very heavy costs of the project. It takes the position that the official confidentiality around the project could help in packaging and selling a highly cost-ineffective project as a desirable one. On this basis, the paper stresses the need for a totally transparent techno-economic and environmental feasibility study of the project and comparison with other possible solutions, before the interlinking project is approved.