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`River linking project is pragmatic'

By Our Special Correspondent

HUBLI April 15. Kalyanaraman, who is working on a project to bring alive the Saraswati, a river that originated in the Himalayas and disappeared thousands of years ago, says that interlinking of rivers in India, is no longer a Utopian concept but a pragmatic one, which could be implemented within a time frame.

Dr. Kalyanaraman, who is here for a short stay, told presspersons on Monday that the project to interlink rivers estimated to cost Rs.5.6 lakh crores could be implemented within the next 10 years with the country own resources.

He said two reasons why the proposal made years ago by the late K.L.Rao to link the Ganga with the Cauvery failed to click was that there was no satisfactory answer to a question whether the Ganga had any surplus water to spare and secondly, the prohibitive cost of lifting water across the Vindhyas.

The Ganga could be augmented by linking it up with the Brahmaputra, the potentials of which had not been fully exploited, and arrangements could be made to negotiate the Vindhyas by laying canals up to the Farakka Barrage and moving downwards via Suvarnarekha up to Mahanadi and downwards.

The project involved providing 30 major links, 14 of which were in the Himalayan region and the rest elsewhere, with minor links provided in the different regions depending on the need.

Dr. Kalyanaraman said the project should be implemented mainly as a people's project with their full participation. While the work of building links and providing for storage of water could be organised by major companies, the question of building canals and others could be handled by the people, with the gram panchayats deciding on their alignment, location of storage reservoir, etc.

Dr. Kalyamaraman said that the linking would benefit over five lakh villages in the country and the cost per village in terms of investment would be Rs.1 crore. If this were to be spread over 10 years, it meant Rs.10 lakhs per year, which was not much.

The country had this year spent Rs. 25,000 crores on drought relief. A sum of Rs.10,000 crores was spent normally in a year for tackling floods. All this could be saved through linking rivers. Then there would be the additional benefit of increased production and a quantum jump in areas under irrigation. A farmer would be able to earn Rs.30,000 from one acre under irrigation under the new scheme.

Dr. Kalyanaraman said another advantage would be the generation of employment through construction of canals through water users associations and gram panchayats. It would help empower the grassroots organisations such as the gram panchayats under the 73rd and 74th amendments of the Constitution, he said.

Dr. Kalyanaraman said that this was the only solution to the problems arising out of lack of rainfall, which was distributed unevenly and whose variations were wide. Only 15 per cent of shortfall in rainfall led to drought. The crisis had come about not because of any shortage of water resources but mainly because of the failure in managing water resources, he said. Run-offs from rivers did not respect territorial boundaries, he said.

Dr. Kalyaraman said that 5,000 years ago, the Saraswati got desiccated through natural phenomena such as movement of Tectonic plates, with the Yamuna turning eastwards and the Sutlej moving westwards. The recent trends had revealed that both the Ganga and the Cauvery were poised to emulate Saraswati unless action was taken to tackle the factors contributing to such a possibility.

Dr. Kalyanaraman said that the proposal had been presented to Prabhu, who heads a committee formed by the Union Government to study feasibility of the project. The President, the Prime Minister, and Deputy Prime Minister had been apprised of the proposal.

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