Current Affairs

River Linking Programme in India

Inter-River Linking Program

Keeping in mind the increasing demand for water, the government of India has developed a new National Water Policy which claims that water is a prime natural resource, a basic need and a precious national asset.

India’s National Water Development Agency (NWDA) has suggested the interlinking of rivers of the country. This proposal is better known as the Inter-River Linking Project (IRL). 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 diverting the Ganges and the Brahmaputra – two of India’s biggest rivers. It is estimated to cost US $ 123 billion and, if completed, would be the single largest water development project anywhere in the world.

The interlinking of rivers has two components: the Himalayan component and a Peninsular one. All interlinking schemes are aimed at transferring of water from one river system to another or by lifting across natural basins.

The project will build 30 links and some 3000 storages to connect 37 Himalayan and Peninsular rivers to form a gigantic South Asian water grid. The canals, planned to be 50 to 100 meters wide and more than 6 meters deep, would facilitate navigation.

Major advantages of ILR

  • Create the potential to increase agricultural production by an additional 100 per cent over the next five years;


  • Avoid the losses of the type that occurred in 2002 to the extent of $550 million by the loss of crops because of extreme draught or flood condition;


  • Save $ 565.2 million a year in foreign exchange by avoiding importing oil;


  • Unify the country by involving every Panchayat as a shareholder and implement agency;


  • Provide for enhancing the security of the country by an additional waterline of defense;


  • Provide employment to 10 lakh people for the next 10 years;


  • Eradicate the flooding problems which recur in the northeast and the north every year;


  • Solve the water crisis situation by providing alternative, perennial water resources;


  • The large canals linking the rivers are also expected to facilitate inland navigation too;


  • Increasing food production from about 200m tones a year to 500 m;


  • Boost the annual average income of farmers, from the present $40 per acre of land to over $500.

Issues and challenges

Inter-River Linking Project involves multifaceted issues and challenges related to economic, ecological, and social costs.

  • IRL project has caused much anger and protest in our neighboring nation, Bangladesh. It is grappled with fear that diversion of water from the Brahmaputra and the Ganges, which provide 85% of the country’s fresh water flow in the dry season, would result into an ecological disaster.
  • As this project is of massive estimated cost, a long term planning and a sound financial stimulation are required to meet the standard of due diligence for such proposals. The huge expenditure may likely generate fiscal problems that are difficult to handle.
  • The maintenance cost and physical position of the dams, canals, tunnels, and captive electric power generation will also involve huge financial burdens. This certainly requires financial assistance from the private sector, as well as global capital agencies. Mobilization of global capital may ultimately entail the risk of destroying social welfare measures.
  • The rehabilitation of project-affected people in water infrastructure projects . The construction of reservoirs and river linking canals in the peninsular component alone expect to displace more than 583,000 people and submerge large areas of forest, agriculture and non-agriculture land.
  • Domestic and regional geo-politics play a pivotal role on the discussions on ILR. As of now, there is no mechanism as of now to deal with matters concerning inter basin transfers.
  • There are also important institutional and legal issues to be sorted out. No state is ready to give water to another state. In India‘s constitution, water is essentially a state subject. Several states including Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Assam and Sikkim have already opposed ILR projects.
  • Some of the ILR (inter-linking of rivers) schemes have international implications, with a possible impact on countries like Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh. Each of the 30 schemes of the ILR is supposed to get through several statutory, legal and procedural steps.
  • Scientists are also doubtful that river diversion may bring significant changes in the
  1. physical and chemical compositions of the sediment load
  2. river morphology
  3. the shape of the delta formed at the river basin.
  • Large dams and reservoirs also cause earthquakes. The controversies over koyna dam, Tehri dam are few such examples. The presence of large number of reservoirs will prove to be disastrous in case of any such eventuality.
  • Inter-linking a toxic river with a non-toxic one will have a devastating impact on all our rivers and, consequently,on all human beings and wild life.
  • Water related diseases, such as Malaria, and Filariasis can spread through stagnant or slow moving water in the irrigation command area.
  • The ecologically uninformed economic development activities, like widespread water logging and the resulting desertification in the catchment areas of many large irrigation projects, can also be cited.



Though River water linking Programme is a boon for both water deficient and water excess regions but the programme has not yet fructified”. Substantiate with examples.

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