River Interlinking

[op- ed snap] A flood of questions


Mains Paper 1: Changes in critical geographical features (including waterbodies and ice-caps) and in flora and fauna and the effects of such changes.

Prelims: Ken-Betwa river linking project.

Mains level: River linking is a important topic for mains and this article highlights various issues that must be resolved before investing billions in river linking projects and also suggests solutions for the same.


  1. The government is all set to begin work on an estimated $87 billion plan to connect around 60 of India’s largest rivers; this includes the Ganga.
  2. Once complete, it is expected to help end farmers’ dependence on fickle monsoon rains, bring millions of hectares of cultivable land under irrigation and help generate thousands of megawatts of electricity.


Water Management

  1. The river-linking plan was first proposed in 2002.
  2. However, it was stalled as States failed to end differences over water sharing contracts and clearances.
  3. Work is now set to link the Betwa and Ken rivers which pass through Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.

Issues involved in river linking project

  1. Water is listed as entry 17 in List II of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution. The government has initiated discussions to bring the subject under the concurrent list, it may not be an easy task to achieve.
  2. If there are changes in the political dispensation in various States, the government in a State that is upstream, for example, may refuse to share water with downstream States.
  3. When there has been a deficient monsoon, we have seen conflicts arise among States over water access.
  4. Thus, a full-fledged architecture is needed to solve disputes, it would not be prudent to embark on a mammoth project like this.
  5. India is technically poor with respect to data related to the water sector.
  6. Unlike other countries, the Central Statistics Office has neither attempted nor funded studies to gather data on water tables at an all-India or State level.

Way Forward

  • Water Resource accounting at national and regional level
  1. It provides an accounting framework that enables the integration of specialised physical resource sector data with other information on the economics of water supply .
  2. It also provides the basis for evaluating the consistency between the objectives and priorities of water resource management and broader goals of economic development planning and policy at a national and local scale.
  3. This in turn improves communication between various agencies generating and using information about water for various purposes and contributes to better coordination, packaging and analyses of such information that are more relevant to the needs of water managers and policy-makers.
  4. It also makes it possible to capture direct, indirect and induced water demand in the process of economic production.
  5. It further helps in estimating the water balance situation in a region.
  • Agricultural context
  1. The government should pay more attention to its ‘more crop per drop’ mission and water-stressed regions should not become water exporters due to the crops they cultivate.
  2. There is a dearth of studies in the Indian context unlike other countries addressing the gap by first analysing water flows embodied (virtual/hidden) in agriculture products moving between the States to create knowledge on the flows.
  3. A well informed water policy will help to close governance gap.
  4. A recent study on virtual water (VW) flow assessment in respect of foodgrains indicates that though the north zone is highly water scarce, it is a net VW exporter to the highly water scarce west and south, which are net VW importers.
  5. Among the north zone States, Punjab has the highest water losses, while Maharashtra (west) and Tamil Nadu (south) the highest water savings in 1996–2005 and 2005–2014, respectively.
  6. Therefore, at a subnational scale, VW flows are not consistent with relative water scarcity.
  7. Such analysis for all the major crops at subnational levels is a must for efficient planning of a scarce resource such as water.



  • About Ken-Betwa ILR project The Ken-Betwa ILR project aims to transfer surplus water from the Ken River to the Betwa basin through concrete canal to irrigate India’s worst drought-prone Bundelkhand region.
  • The 221-km concrete canal will pass through Jhansi, Banda and Mahoba districts of Uttar Pradesh and Chhatarpur, Panna and Tikamgarh districts of Madhya Pradesh.




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