India is set to start work on a massive, unprecedented river diversion programme, which will channel water away from the north and west of the country to drought-prone areas in the east and south, according to The Guardian.
The plan could be disastrous for the local ecology and may affect 100 million people of Bangladesh, the British newspaper reports quoting environmental activists.
The project involves rerouting water from major rivers including the Ganges and Brahmaputra and creating canals to interlink the Ken and Batwa rivers in central India and Damanganga-Pinjal in the west, said the report published on Wednesday.
The work could start in a few days, India’s minister of water resources Uma Bharti was quoted to have said this week.
A spokesperson from her department told the Guardian that the government is still waiting for clearance from the environment ministry.
The project will cost an estimated 20 lakh crore rupees (£207bn) and take 20-30 years to complete, added the report titled “India set to start massive project to divert Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers/ the guardian”.
The government of premier Narendra Modi is reportedly presenting the project as the solution to India’s endemic water problems.
Plans to interlink rivers were drawn up in the 1980s by Indira Gandhi’s government, and were gathering dust as central governments repeatedly failed to win the approval of states. Now, with a supreme court mandate, and government backing, save the rubber stamp of the environment ministry, the project could get under way in a matter of days, said the report.
Scientists say the government needs to do a full audit of its existing water resources and analyse the environmental impact of linking rivers before pressing on with its plans.
The Guardian said the river linking project could lead to further disputes not just between neighbouring states, but with the neighbouring government of Bangladesh.
India’s plans will affect 100 million people in Bangladesh, who live downstream of the Ganges and Brahmaputra and rely on the rivers for their livelihoods, the report pointed out.
On Monday, Bangladesh’s minister of water, Nazrul Islam, urged the Indian government to take Bangladesh’s water needs into consideration.
“Fifty four of 56 Indian rivers flow through Bangladesh,” he said. “India is giving a lot of importance to its own people hit by drought … but it must not ignore our rights.”
The Indian water resources ministry spokesperson said: “The Indian government is addressing Bangladesh’s water problems too,” adding that ministers from the two countries had discussed the water issue in the past. “We don’t have the details, but we will ensure Bangladesh gets its share of water too.”
Source: Prothom Alo