Kerala in a tizzy over river-linking project

A view of the Achencoil river with a huge mudbank formation in the middle at Pandalam. Photo: Leju Kamal  

The very idea of interlinking the rivers of India has its roots in the thoughts of M. Viswesvarayya, the stalwart engineer of yesteryear.

The interlinking of rivers for inland navigation was proposed even earlier, during the British Raj, by Arthur Cotton, who pioneered the development of water resources in South India in 1839.

The policy document of the National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre has stressed the importance of implementing the much-publicised National River Linking Project. It is aimed at ensuring even distribution of water in different parts of the country by transferring water from the surplus river basins to those with a deficit.

The matter was highlighted in the Presidential address before Parliament, and the government has set apart Rs.100 crore for preparing the detailed report on the proposed river-linking projects.

NWDA study

The proposal to interlink the Pampa and the Achencoil, two major west-flowing rivers in Kerala, with the Vaipar river in Tamil Nadu on the basis of a study conducted by the National Water Development Agency (NWDA) two decades ago has kicked up a controversy in the State.

The NWDA was formed in 1982 on the basis of the recommendations in the National Perspective Plan for Water Development of 1980. The National Perspective Plan proposed a total of 30 river-linking schemes (14 schemes under the Himalayan component and 16 in the peninsular component) involving as many as 37 rivers.

The Pampa-Achencoil-Vaipar Link Project (PAVLP) was included in the peninsular river development scheme on the basis of the NWDA finding that the two Kerala rivers had surplus water to the tune of 3,127 million cubic metres (mcm). The NWDA proposed diversion of 634 mcm of water to the water-scarce Vaipar river basin in Tamil Nadu.

Environmentalists and river management experts have taken strong exception to the NWDA finding that the two Kerala rivers have surplus water. “Tamil Nadu was hotly pursuing and pressurising the government of India and the NWDA to get the PAVLP implemented at the earliest. If the attempt of Tamil Nadu succeeds, it will be yet another disaster for Kerala,” says M.K. Parameswaran Nair, Mullaperiyar Special Cell chairman and former member of the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB).

Mr. Parameswaran Nair is of the view that Kerala has always been at the receiving end in all its water-sharing deals with Tamil Nadu. He says the State started losing its water resources to Tamil Nadu from 1895 when the first major inter-basin diversion in the peninsula was commissioned by diverting waters of the Periyar basin to the Vaigai basin. Tamil Nadu managed to get this diversion effected by forcing the Maharaja of the erstwhile State of Travancore to sign an uncommon, unrealistic, and one-sided treaty in 1886, he says.

“The time has come to identify and preserve the free-flowing stretches of our great rivers before growth and development make the beauty of the unspoiled waterways a memory,” says N.K. Sukumaran Nair, general secretary of the Pampa Parirakshana Samithi (PPS) that has been campaigning for the cause of the Pampa for the past 25 years.

‘Not inter-State’

He says the Pampa and the Achencoil are rivers of Kerala, and can never be treated as inter-State rivers. But the people’s representatives from Kerala have failed to take note of the disastrous socio-economic and environmental impacts of the PAVLP, and should have strongly countered it when the matter came up before Parliament, he says.

The Pampa is the third largest river in the State with a catchment of 2,235 sq km, and the Achenkovil joins the Pampa at Veeyapuram in Alappuzha district to empty into Vembanad Lake. The Vembanad wetland system has been declared as a Ramsar site in view of its rich aquatic ecology.

Both the rivers are regarded as the lifeline of the Central Travancore region, and the proposed diversion of water would lead to an environmental and ecological disaster, says the PPS leader.

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Printable version | May 9, 2021 9:46:20 AM |

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