“We are not truly civilized if we concern ourselves only with the relation of man to man. What is important is the relation of man to all life.”

                                                                                                                                 Rachel Carson

Few days before I got a mail from a social organization change.org regarding the social issue prevailing in Madhya Pradesh.The mail says Villagers in Madhya Pradesh are standing in knee deep water to protest against the Omkareshwar Dam project. “Their silent protest has now reached 21 days since they immersed themselves in water, but no government official has even come to talk to them. “and the mail is to carry out a mass petition signing campaign against the state government. Tell me one thing in this planet where the importance or need of water is not felt. Water holds two identities i.e. it can give life in the form of clean water, irrigation, electricity and it holds equivalent potential to take life through droughts and floods. Water is undoubtedly the most important natural resource on the planet, as it sustains all aspects of life in a way that no other resource can. Water constitutes the natural storage agencies like Ponds, lakes, river bodies, sea and ocean. We always resonate in print and electronic media cases of farmers suicide due to delayed monsoon, drought and how life had been devastated by the flood. The plight of farmers, closure of industries due to scarcity of water had been in limelight all around. We can clearly say that both scarcity and abundance can create a drastic effect on us so the need of the hour is the water- management. Now the water- management is possible through interlinking of river water and a master plan should be made for establishing a effective network of river bodies. It is a mega project that engages money, resources, engineering, management and human understanding. It is designed to ease water shortages in western and southern India and aims to link 30 major rivers. It will also involve the diverting the Ganges and the Brahmaputra – two of India’s biggest rivers. We have came across this issue after supreme court judgment on 2012 directing the Union government to to constitute a ‘special committee’ forthwith for inter-linking of rivers for the benefit of the entire nation but the concept of interlinking of rivers is not new. It was Sir Arthur Cotton who had originally proposed the networking of rivers more than a century ago, and Dr. K. L. Rao, the Minister of Power and Irrigation in the Cabinet of Smt. Indira Gandhi, revived this proposal in 1972. Before dealing with the technicalities and challenges let us first understand what actually is interlinking water project? A Project which aims to transfer water from surplus to water deficit areas in the country and the same interlinking will help saving the people living in drought-prone zones from hunger and people living in flood-prone areas from the destruction caused by floods”. The project constitutes 2 important components: Himalayam component which proposes to transfer 33 BCM of water through 16 river links whereas the Peninsular component proposes to transfer 141 BCM (Billion Cubic Meters) water through 14 river links. Advantage of the proposed interlinking river water project are Improved agricultural production, employment to 10 lakh people in the next 10 years, eradication of flooding problem, boost to water- based industries and many more. Though we have a planned and proposed structure in our hand but the there are certain bottlenecks in execution of the plan.

  1. Constitutional Mandate- The general impression is that in India water is a State subject, but the position is not quite so simple. The primary entry in the Constitution relating to water is indeed Entry 17 in the State List, but it is explicitly made subject to the provisions of Entry 56 in the Union List which enables the Union to deal with inter-State rivers if Parliament legislates for the purpose. This means that if Parliament considers it “expedient in the public interest” that the “regulation and development” of an inter-State river, say the Ganga or Yamuna or Narmada, should be “under the control of the Union”, it can enact a law to that effect, and that law will give the Union legislative (and therefore executive) powers over that river. That enabling provision has not been used by Parliament. No law has been passed bringing any river under the control of the Union. Under Entry 56, Parliament did enact the River Boards Act 1956 providing for the establishment of River Boards for inter-State rivers, but no such board has been established under the Act. That Act is virtually a dead letter. The reasons are political, i.e., strong resistance by State governments to any enhancement of the role of the Central government.
  2. Disadvantages overshadowed the advantages-Scientists are also doubtful that river diversion may bring significant changes in the physical and chemical compositions of the sediment load, river morphology and the shape of the delta formed at the river basin. Water related diseases, such as Malaria, and Filariasis can spread through stagnant or slow moving water in the irrigation command area. The ecologically un-informed economic development activities, like widespread water logging and the resulting desertification in the catchment areas of many large irrigation projects.

Apart from the disadvantages, there are various issues challenges that need to be overcome to pave the path of development and National interest. The intention behind writing this article is not only to raise he concern but to come up with a adequate and feasible solution to dilemma which ultimately harms us and our society. The matter of interlinking of river not only falls in the part of the Ministry of water resources rather environmentalist, geo-experts, engineers, social activist, Economist, Judicial system and many more should hold collective responsibility to execute the plan. Inter- state conflict is inevitable but it might be solved by including water resources in the Concurrent list. It is not mandatory to go with the interlinking of river projects if we have alternatives in the form of sharing of water through mutual consensus, construction of ecological dams. The true essence of any development project lies in the happiness and satisfaction of the people. Development at the expense of environmental destruction, unnecessary displacement of people and interstate conflict will one worsens the existing situation. The project can be only projects can be implemented after proper planning of ecological conservation, social acceptance and settlement of political controversies. At the end I remember the old century proverb.

Indian rivers network project: Dried Amrapur branch canal in Gujarat during drought, India

Role of Judiciary:-

The judgment acknowledges that “the construction of storage reservoirs on the principal tributaries of rivers Ganga and Brahmaputra in India, Bhutan and Nepal” makes it an international issue. Bangladesh is also an affected party as downstream country. The judgment states that Networking of Rivers scheme is divided into four major parts:

i) Interlinking of Mahanadi-Godavari-Krishna-Cauvery Rivers and building storages at potential sites in these basins.

ii) Interlinking of West flowing rivers north of Bombay and south of Tapi.

iii) Interlinking of rivers Ken & Chambal.

iv) Diversion of other west flowing rivers from Kerala.

The Judgment delivered by Hon’ble Supreme Court dated February 27, 2012 is based on a flawed assumption that there is consensus and unanimity among the states in the matter of Interlinking of Rivers concept/project. The Judgment in the “Networking of Rivers” case inconsistently admitted absence of consensus and unanimity among the states in the Interlinking of river water projects and still concluded that there is consensus among states. The success of a democracy, especially one based on a federal system, depends largely on an impartial and independent judiciary endowed with sufficient powers to administer justice. Judges can import their personal views in interpreting a statute but they must not assume the role of guardians of public policy and should not play god. A distinction must be drawn between personal idiosyncrasy and incorporation of new economic and social policies in the interpretation of law.

The proposal of networking peninsular and Himalayan rivers emerges from a lack of rigorous evaluation of the ecological impacts which would prove disastrous not only to the fishery, but also to the biodiversity and biotic processes that have evolved over the past hundreds of millions of years. One cannot expect the judges and legislators to understand but venturing into an area of their ignorance is against all canons of wisdom.In the case in question the judges went on to advise the government that in case consent was not forthcoming from the states, the government should consider passing a legislation to obviate consent of the states for this project. Since criticizing the judges is a criminal offense, the advocates of resistance who are not shackled by their funding sources from among the citizenry and civil society need to keep a watch on the impeachable antecedents and future activities of the judges and legislators because it is quite possible that legislation for ILR or nationalization of rivers may get introduced in the Parliament. The rampant violation of the statutory principles and natural justice requires a vigilant citizens’ network as opposed to fund agency driven initiatives to investigate as to why the judges and legislators appear to have sold themselves to the ideology of the free market undermining ecosystem beyond repair and democratic rights of its citizens to bring the truth about it public domain.


The interlinking project, even to start with, will have to face many potential inter-state conflicts. If the so called ‘surplus’ basin areas use ecohydrological arguments, and not be guided by arithmetical hydrology, in calculating their maximum water demands, then there will be quite a disagreement on what is the ‘surplus’ that can be transferred. The second point of discontent will be on the sharing of the all-important flows in the pre-monsoon period, when ‘surplus’ states cease to be so and need the water in the river as much as the ‘deficit’ basins. If the past is any indicator of the trends in future, and if the perception of the water resource engineers remains unchanged, the interlinking project may lead to so many water related conflicts, as a result of 29 which, the Supreme Court may soon get fully overburdened with them.

                 “We don’t miss your water until your well runs dry.”


Author: Jinendra Parakh, Co-founder and Executive Editor of Analysis

You can reach author at: jinenedra.analysis@gmail.com