The Water Resources Ministry has sought the help of L. Rajagopal — the businessman-cum-Member of Parliament from Vijayawada with major interests in large-scale water projects — to organise an event on Wednesday on interlinking of rivers. Water Resources Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal will be the chief guest at the “Dialogue on Inter Linking of Rivers: Issues and Challenges.”

Mr. Rajagopal is the chairman of the Organising Committee for the event to which, the media was told on Tuesday, several stakeholders including private players have been invited. Tuesday’s “curtain-raiser press meet” was organised by a “manch” formed by the MP, who is also the founder-chairman of Lanco Foundation set up by the Lanco Group of companies which is a contractor and developer of dams, canals and hydropower projects. The Lanco Foundation sponsored the press meet as well as the event to be held on Wednesday. However, Mr. Rajagopal denied there was any conflict of interest here.

He invoked the name of yesteryear minister K.L. Rao to prop up the programme of inter-linking of rivers.

Setting the record straight, however, Central Water Commission Chairman R.C. Jha, who was present, said Dr. Rao’s proposal was rejected because it would have consumed a lot of electricity. Captain Dastur’s garland canal was also not considered feasible. Then came the Perspective Plan of the Ministry, followed by the National Water Development Agency identifying 30 links of which 14 are in the Himalayan region involving neighbouring countries.

“To make water available for a growing population, there is need to increase efficiency of the present projects, including the 5,100 large dams, ration water and reduce consumption. Of the 4,000 billion cubic metres ft of water in the country, 1,869 BCM was available for utilisation by transferring from one basin to another. Yes, there will have to be certain sacrifices and the negative impact will have to be minimised,” said Mr. Jha.

“We have the support of various private companies and hope the government will support us,” said Mr. Rajagopal, adding there was “no conflict of interest” as his irrigation contractor days were over 10 years ago and the “manch” he had formed had no business interests. There was no clarity, however, on the role of Mr. Rajagopal in the programme and how he came to be the Organising Committee chairman.

Asked about the displaced people of the Onkareshwar Dam standing in neck-deep waters in Madhya Pradesh to seek rehabilitation with land, he admitted that any hydel project would bring about displacement of villagers but they would be effectively rehabilitated. “Their livelihood should not suffer.”

On the resistance by surplus States to transfer water to a deficit State, Mr. Jha said this problem would be taken care of when the River Basin Authorities — that are conceived under the proposed new national water policy — came into force. States would then have a larger say.

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