The Congress on Monday refused to be drawn into taking a stand on interlinking of rivers as a permanent solution to floods, with party spokesman Abhishek Singhvi maintaining that the “jury is still out” on the issue.

Asked to comment on the river interlinking proposal mooted by the erstwhile National Democratic Alliance government — particularly in the current context of floods in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka — Mr. Singhvi said: “I don’t think anybody is accepting or rejecting it. It is a larger issue.”

Debate still on

Referring to the huge costs involved, the spokesman pointed out that experts were still debating the issue and there had been no meeting ground between the divergent views. Further, the Congress sought to dismiss suggestions that the party and its government were going slow on the issue after general secretary Rahul Gandhi went public with his opposition to interlinking of rivers.

Stating that Mr. Gandhi had spoken out only recently — during his visit to Tamil Nadu last month — Congress leaders maintained that the proposal had been put on the back burner during the first edition of the United Progressive Alliance government itself.

Earlier in the day, Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh described interlinking of rivers as a “human and environmental disaster” involving huge human and economic costs. While Mr. Ramesh claimed that he was merely reiterating a similar statement made by him in Parliament, Mr. Singhvi steered clear of it when asked to comment on Mr. Ramesh’s remark.

The Congress expressed its deep sympathy for the flood-affected people of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and parts of Maharashtra stating that the immediate need of the hour was to provide relief and rehabilitation. As to whether the unprecedented floods warranted declaration of a national calamity, Mr. Singhvi said that was a decision to be taken by the government.

Rejects charge

He also rejected the charge that Andhra Pradesh had been slow in making out a case for declaring a national calamity because of the “political instability” in the State following the death of the former Chief Minister, Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy. He described the allegation as “cheap political gimmickry.”

Mr. Singhvi was equally circumspect when asked to comment on allegations that floods in Andhra Pradesh were caused because of the Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled Karnataka releasing excess water. “This is not the time to indulge in allegations and counter-allegations,” he said.

As for Karnataka’s demand for release of Rs. 10,000 crore for relief and rehabilitation, Mr. Singhvi said every State would make such a demand under these circumstances, adding that the Centre had pressed in all possible help to the two States.

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