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Injustice Invisible- 52

Injustice Invisible- 52

Recently three of the generators of the Idukki dam in Kerala had to be shut down due to some leakage problem in the tunnel that carries water to them and the Kerala Government decided to import electricity from the neighbouring states. Such power sharing is possible because all the Southern states like Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh are under the Southern Regional Power Grid which is one of the five Regional Power Grids in India under the Power Grid Corporation of India Limited  (POWERGRID) which had, according to the Economic Times on 2015 June 2, an investment plan of 22,500 crores for the year 2016 and also have a capital expenditure plan of 1,00,000 crores for the year 2016-17. This gives us an idea of the manner and the economic extent in which the POWERGRID operates in India and how it can transmit power from any Regional Grid to any state in any other Regional Grid. India is also working to interlink its national POWERGRIDs with the Sri Lankan POWERGRID.

Similarly we have a huge network of railways. The statistics show that our railway system consists of 1,15,000 km of track over a route of 67,312 km and with 7,112 stations.  It is reported to be transporting about 8.101 billion passengers per year or about 22 million passengers a day and 1.107 billion tons of freight in the year In 2015-16.  In 2014–2015 Indian Railways had revenues of  Rs 1.709 trillion which consists of Rs 1.118 trillion  from freight and   Rs 451.26 billion from passenger tickets. The railway system is so interlinked that any train, passenger or goods, can be diverted from any place to any other place in India if the need arises.

Similar is our roads and highways system. As reported on 31 March 2015 our country has road network of over 5,472,144 kilometres and is supposed to be the second largest road network  in the world with 61.05% of it in paved condition. Our road system can transport people and goods from anywhere to anywhere in India.

Mark the physical and financial magnitude of both railways and road systems in India. But water is more ESSENTIAL to human life than electricity, railways, roads or any other developmental works. Yet we do not have a water-sharing system or “Water Grid of India” operating in our country. Why do we still not have secure water sharing system in this country even after nearly seven decades of Independence: Invisible Injustice of National Dimension!  

The proposal for inter-linking of rivers in India was made first during the British rule by Sir Arthur Thomas Cotton  ( 1803-1899) who was a British general and   irrigation engineer. He constructed several dams and anicuts in the Andhra and Tamil Nadu areas including the Godavari anicut and the  aqueduct  on Krishna River. The aqueduct project on Krishna river was sanctioned in 1851 and completed by 1855. After completing the Krishna and Godavari anicuts, Cotton envisaged a huge storage of Krishna and Godavari waters (present Polavaram project). In 1858 Cotton came up with still more ambitious proposal of connecting almost all major rivers of India with canals. He devoted all his life to the construction of  irrigation  and navigation  canals  throughout British India. He helped many people by building Prakasam barrage, dhavaleshvaram dam and Kurnool-Cuddapah canal. Hindu reported on May 15, 2015 that “Polavarm” the multi-purpose  national irrigation  project benefitting several states was the brain-child Sir Cotton.  In that his dream was only partially realized; but he is still honoured in parts of  Andhra Pradesh  and  Tamil Nadu  for his contribution to the lives of common people.  A museum was built in his honour in Rajahmundry which holds approximately one hundred images and 15 machine tools that Cotton used for constructing the barrages and dams in Andhra Pradesh.

Naveen Mangal Joshi a Water Resource Engineer with 33 years of experience wrote in an article in Hydro Nepal, Issue No.12, January, 2013, on “National River Linking Project of India”, that in the Independent India, Captain D. J. Dastur was the first Indian to submit a proposal in 1977, to construct a high level canal to collect water from the rivers like Ravi, Sutlej, Yamuna, Ganga and Brahmaputra, known as the Himalayan Canal for transferring the harnessed water down to the Southern Garland Canals. His plan consisted of two main canals: Himalayan Canal and Southern Garland Canals. Joshi reported that another proposal was made by Dr. K. L. Rao in 1979 for a National Water Grid comprised of (1) Ganga-Cauvery link through the basins of Sone river, (2) Narmada, Tapi, Godavari, Krishna and Pennar, (3) Brahmaputra Ganga link, (4) Canal from Narmada to Gujarat, Western Rajasthan and Maharashtra, and (5) links from the rivers of the Western Ghats to the East.

In 1980, India’s Ministry of Water Resources (MWR) came up with a report entitled "National Perspectives for Water Resources Development". This report split the Water Development Project Proposal (WDPP) of India in two parts: the Himalayan and Peninsular components. In 1982, India financed and set up a committee of experts, through National Water Development Agency (NWDA)  to complete detailed studies, surveys and investigations in respect of reservoirs, canals and all aspects of feasibility of inter-linking Peninsular rivers and related water resource management. In between the inter-river linking idea was revived again in 1999, after a new political alliance formed at the Centre. The proposal was modified to intra-basin development as opposed to inter-basin water transfer. By 2004, a different political alliance led by Congress Party was in power, and it resurrected its opposition to the project concept and plans. Social activists campaigned that the project may be disastrous in terms of cost, potential environmental and ecological damage, rise of water table and unforeseen dangers inherent in tinkering with nature. Between 2005 and 2013 the Central Government instituted a number of committees, rejected a number of reports, and financed a series of feasibility cum impact studies, each with changing environmental law and standards. The NWDA produced many reports over 30 years spanning from 1982 to 2013. In February 2012, disposing a PIL Supreme Court (SC) refused to give any direction for implementation of Rivers Interlinking Project. It stated that it involves policy decisions which are part of legislative competence of State and Central Governments and directed the Ministry of Water Resources to constitute an experts committee to pursue the matter with the governments as no party had pleaded against the implementation of Rivers Interlinking Project. However, till today nothing of the projects proposed were not pursued beyond discussing and debating: Invisible Injustice.

India has a growing population, and large impoverished agricultural population that rely on monsoon dependent agriculture. Weather uncertainties and potential climate change raise concerns of social stability and impact of floods and droughts on rural poverty. The population of India is expected to grow further at a decelerating pace and stabilize around 1.5 billion by 2050. The demand for cereals and millets production alone will be around 450 million tonnes. Hence according to National Council of Applied Economic Research there is a need for significant improvement in irrigation network than the current status.

80% of the water India receives through its annual rains and surface water-flow, happens over a 4-month period (June to September).  This spatial and time variance in availability of natural water versus year round demand for irrigation, drinking and industrial water creates a huge gap between demand and supply of water. The answer to India's water problem is to conserve the abundant monsoon water bounty, store it in huge reservoirs, and use it judiciously in areas which have inadequate rainfall, or having drought.

Latest proposal

In an attempt to incubate ideas the author of this article proposes the following model for North-South water sharing. This model is based on the principle of siphoning water from the higher altitudes to the lower. Most of the tributaries of Ganges, Yamuna, Brahmaputra and Sind are originating from the mighty Himalayan mountain ranges which are much higher than Deccan Plateau and are perennial in nature as they are fed also by the melting snow in the summer. Applying the principle of siphoning the water from these tributaries can be transferred to the Deccan plateau which experiences scarcity of water even during monsoon.  

The origins of the hundreds of tributaries of Himalayan rivers are at much higher altitudes than the Deccan plateau making up 43% of the land mass of our country with an area of 500,000 square km. The average height of the plateau ranges from 500 meters in the northern part to 1000 meters in the southern parts having a gradual slope from West to East. The Chota Nagpur Plateau adjoining Deccan plateau in eastern India covering Jharkhand, Odisha, West Bengal, Bihar and Chhattisgarh cover an area of 65,000 square km having an average height of 620 meters.

Now Gangotri the origin of Ganges is around 3400 meters high while Yamunotri originates at still higher level (4420 meter). The Brahmaputra is said to be entering into India at 7757 meter height. There are hundreds of perennially active streams in the Indian part of Himalayas originating at much higher altitudes than Deccan plateau. After adequate survey of both Himalayan range and Deccan plateau a number of siphoning systems can be installed. These systems can pass through the Gangetic and Brahmaputra plains underground overcoming all the problems that would be created by the over ground canals and aqueducts. The siphoning systems will surface at different vantage points in the Deccan plateau to store and distribute water for various purposes. It is better to store the siphoned water in huge underground storage at advantageous spots in the Deccan plateau from where water is again distributed following the gravitational force. Both the storage and supply systems have to be well planned.


1)  No pumping and use of power is required to transport water from the North to South.

2) Underground siphoning will not disturb the over ground systems like fields, factories, institutions, cities and towns as is done in the underground metros railways.

3)  Environmental problems due to the project will be least.

4) Loss of water through surface evaporation will be nil since water will not be exposed to atmosphere in transport and storages.

5) Loss of water through seepage and percolation will be the least.

6) Underground siphoning is safe and secure from enemy attack within or without.

7) There will no loss of land surface area for the underground aqueducts siphoning the water.

8) Maintenance cost and daily power requirement for operation will be minimum.

9) Several branches of siphoning pipes from several adjacent sources can be joined at suitable locations into a bigger siphoning pipe to transport the water to Deccan plateau.

10) There will be several independent siphoning pipe systems in place bringing water to different areas of Deccan plateau independently.

11) Hence problems in one siphon system will not affect the other.

12) Indian engineers have world class competence in tunneling and underground construction.

13) We can condition the farmers to go for micro-irrigations systems instead of the traditional wasteful flooding type of irrigation.

14) Similar siphoning systems can be installed to transport water from Western Ghats, Eastern Ghats, Vindhya-Satpura ranges, Aravalli ranges and even from ranges in Chota-nagpur area.

15) The underground storages can be linked to share water between areas within the plateau.

16) This gigantic project can be completed part by part as we do in underground metros, surface railways and road ways.

17) This project will benefit many millions of farming people in the Deccan and Chota-nagpur plateaus.

18) India’s production potential in agriculture and animal husbandry will increase many times.

19. Environmentally sound land use pattern can be put in place in both the plateaus.

20) There are many other snow balling multiple advantages to the flora, fauna and people of the two plateaus.

That this project is not implemented is perhaps the greatest of all the Invisible Injustices done to people of this nation by the successive governments at the Centre and States.

(The writer is Retd Professor, XIM. Bhubaneswar. He is a specialist in water resource management. Email:

(Published on 19th December 2016, Volume XXVIII, Issue 51)#