Economic Impact of the River Interlinking Project

The river interlinking project is a massive infrastructure project being undertaken in India. It is the first of its kind being undertaken anywhere in the world. Interlinking rivers has been a figment of the public imagination for a very long time. In India, the plan was first proposed during the British era. However, it was not undertaken since the authorities did not believe that they had the engineering capability to complete such a remarkable project. Scientists in modern-day India are of the opinion that engineering studies have advanced so much that such inter-linking is now possible. These scientists regularly face criticisms regarding their ability to execute such projects. However, engineering is not the only aspect of this mega project. The environmental impact is also extremely important. Also, there will be a significant economic impact that would result from such interlinking.

In this article, we will have a closer look at some of the economic impacts that might be faced as a result of this project.

What is The River Interlinking Project?

The water availability in India is deeply divided. There are some parts of the country where there is surplus water. On the other hand, there are other parts of the country which are drought-prone and do not have enough water supply. The river interlinking project plans to create an intricate system of canals which will be used to divert the water of surplus regions to the deficient regions. The plan has divided India into two regions. Firstly, the rivers of peninsular regions will be linked. In fact, some segments of the project have already been completed. Godavari and Krishna rivers which originate in the western part of India have already been linked. Once the linking in the peninsular regions is complete, more complex interlinking of the Himalayan rivers will be undertaken.

Economic Aspects of Inter Linking Rivers

  • Agriculture: India is a largely agrarian country. More than 70% of the population of the country depends upon agriculture for its livelihood. Floods and droughts are common every year. This is what keeps a major part of the country locked in poverty. If the river interlinking project is somehow completed, the extent of irrigation in the country will grow manifold. More irrigation would create more fertile land. Hence, the crop production would increase manifold if this idea were to become a success. The best part is that the people in the water surplus regions will not be impacted since they will still receive the water that they need. However, people in the deficient regions will get more water. This will enable them to grow more crops and move up the economic ladder.
  • Hydroelectricity: Once the water is routed from one river to another, the need for an extensive man-made irrigation network becomes inevitable. This irrigation network would mean the construction of several dams. In the basic plans that were drawn up for interlinking India’s rivers, the construction of more than 3000 dams was envisaged. If so many dams are constructed across the nation, they will be expected to hold water. They can be used to generate electricity when the water is supposed to be held.

    Hence, the production of hydroelectricity is bound to increase. The river interlinking project would not only solve the water shortage but also the electricity shortage which is faced by several parts of rural India.

  • Displacement: The economic benefits from the river inter-linking project are still distant. However, the costs are immediate. Large-scale engineering projects will have to be undertaken at several locations in the country. This means that the government will have to acquire land and clear the way for the projects. This will lead to the displacement of a lot of people who are currently occupying those lands. The costs of rehabilitating these people are immense. Also, these costs have to be borne immediately whereas the benefits are uncertain and far into the future.
  • Climate Change: Many environmentalists are criticizing the plan because it doesn’t take climate change into account. The slow process of climate change may make the plan completely useless in about five decades. For instance, the underlying assumption of this plan is that there are rivers in India which have surplus water. Most of the rivers which have been identified as having surplus water are Himalayan Rivers. They receive their surplus water when the glaciers melt in the Himalayan region. However, because of global warming, the size of these glaciers is decreasing every year. Several years later, there might be no excess rivers in the nation. Hence, this plan of diverting water from one place to another might completely fail. In fact, it may lead to political unrest amongst different regions. If the assumption of climate change is indeed true, the river interlinking project will end up increasing poverty instead of alleviating it.

To sum it up, river interlinking is a very risky project. Not only are there environmental risks but also economic risks. This is the reason why earlier governments were shying away from the project. This project will either benefit the economy tremendously or will cause havoc. There is no middle ground as far as this project is concerned. So, is this good economics or bad science fiction? Only time will tell!

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