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Insights into Editorial: Make the Link – Indian River Linking (IRL) project

Insights into Editorial: Make the Link

27 April 2016

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Water has now become a political issue for want of proper development and management of the resource. While millions suffer from droughts and floods, waters in the country’s many rivers flow unutilised, and are discharged into the sea every year.

  • In the wake of this crisis, few experts have asked the government to expedite the Indian River Linking (IRL) project that was proposed three decades ago.

About the project:

The interlinking project aims to link India’s rivers by a network of reservoirs and canals that will allow for their water capacities to be shared and redistributed. According to some, this is an engineered panacea that will reduce persistent floods in some parts and water shortages in other parts besides facilitating the generation of hydroelectricity for an increasingly power hungry country.

IRL project

Components of IRL project:

Since the 1980s, the interlinking project has been managed by India’s National Water Development Agency (NWDA) under the Ministry of Water Resources. It has been split into three parts:

  1. A northern Himalayan rivers interlink component.
  2. A southern peninsular component.
  3. An intra-State rivers linking component.

The NWDA has studied and prepared reports on 14 projects for the Himalayan region, 16 projects for the peninsular India component and 36 intra-State river interlinking projects. However, various governments have shelved the idea for a number of reasons.

Why this is a good idea?

  • India receives most of its rain during monsoon season from June to September, most of it falls in northern and eastern part of India, the amount of rainfall in southern and western part are comparatively low. It will be these places which will have shortage of water. Interlinking of rivers will help these areas to have water throughout the year.
  • The main occupation of rural India is agriculture and if monsoon fails in a year, then agricultural activities come to a standstill and this will aggravate rural poverty. Interlinking of rivers will be a practical solution for this problem, because the water can be stored or water can be transferred from water surplus area to deficit.
  • The Ganga Basin, Brahmaputra basin sees floods almost every year. In order to avoid this, the water from these areas has to be diverted to other areas where there is scarcity of water. This can be achieved by linking the rivers. There is a two way advantage with this – floods will be controlled and scarcity of water will be reduced.
  • Interlinking of rivers will also have commercial importance on a longer run. This can be used as inland waterways and which helps in faster movement of goods from one place to other.
  • Interlinking creates a new occupation for people living in and around these canals and it can be the main areas of fishing in India.

However, some people are opposing this project due to the following reasons:

  • Interlinking of rivers will cause huge amount of distortion in the existing environment. In order to create canals and reservoirs, there will be mass deforestation. This will have impact on rains and in turn affect the whole cycle of life.
  • Usually rivers change their course and direction in about 100 years and if this happens after interlinking, then the project will not be feasible for a longer run.
  • Due to interlinking of rivers, there will be decrease in the amount of fresh water entering seas and this will cause a serious threat to the marine life system and will be a major ecological disaster.
  • Due to the creation of Canals and Reservoirs, huge amount of area which is occupied by the people will be submerged leading to displacement of people and government will have to spend more to rehabilitate these people.
  • The amount required for these projects is so huge that government will have to take loans from the foreign sources which would increase the burden on the government and country will fall in a debt trap.

Opposition from states:

Despite many expert committees recommending the project and a taskforce preparing a timeframe for its execution, not a single link has been constructed so far due to opposition from water-endowed states. Since water has become an emotive issue, none of the water-rich states would like to accept that they have surplus water to spare.

What’s the solution?

By offering to compensate the economic cost of the water surplused, these states could be persuaded to share the surplus. This would pave the way for early implementation of the project.


The IRL project is a great challenge and an opportunity to address the water issues arising out of climate change. The long-term solution to water scarcity lies in making the IRL project work by building a network of dams and canals across the length and breadth of the country. However, interlinking has to take place after a detailed study so that does not cause any problem to the environment or aquatic life.