Civil engineers love river-linking, and hate all who question it
Arthur Cotton's offsprings
Developmental issues held centre stage during the recent general elections. Curiously, however, there was little debate on that mother of all development projects -- interlinking rivers (ilr). In fact, an opinion poll conducted by the news weekly, India Today, showed that 78 per cent voters spread over 185 constituencies supported the project. Does this indicate widespread consensus about interlinking? Or is it that opposing voices have been stifled? The ground realities point to the latter.
In fact, nearly 18 months after the Supreme Court's (sc's) famous directive, the interlinking programme has not managed consensus among stakeholders. The sc has been informed that the progress on preparing feasibility reports is quite slow. Only eight out of 31 envisaged linkages have been prepared so far. So, it is almost certain that the task force on river linking would not be able to prepare all feasibility reports by the 2006 deadline.
Such indiscriminate attack was in fact initiated by the National Water Development Agency by tossing up insinuations such as "pseudo-environmentalists," "self-claimed experts" "dolphin lovers," and so on. Of course, such slander mongerers conveniently forget that ilr's critics include experts such as Bharat Singh -- distinguished engineer and former vic-chancellor, Roorkee University -- and former Union water secretary, Ramaswamy R Iyer. In fact, according to Iyer, those questioning river linking include an engineering doyen, a present member of the Planning Commission and two of his successors as Union water secretary.
River-linking was first mooted by Arthur Cotton in the mid-nineteenth century and was subsequently proposed again by C P Ramaswamy Aiyer in 1926, K L Rao in 1972 and K G Dastur in 1977. All these projects were found unfeasible. So what is new about the new programme? ilr's supporters have conveniently elided discussion on such doubts; in fact, the few feasibility reports remain cocooned in secrecy. Such denial of information has frustrated the anti-river linking group no end. Meanwhile, Goa has become the first state to join the ilr bandwagon and Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh (all states governed by the Bharatiya Janata Party) are about to follow suit.
Avilash Roul is a research scholar at the New Delhi-based Society for the Study of Peace and Conflict
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