National Interlinking of Rivers Authority (NIRA)


    In News 

    • Recently, the Centre has set in motion the process of creating the National Interlinking of Rivers Authority (NIRA).
      • The Task Force for Interlinking of Rivers (TFILR) has already deliberated on the proposal of the constitution of the NIRA on October 22.

    What is National Interlinking of Rivers Authority (NIRA)?

    • It is an independent autonomous body for planning, investigation, financing and the implementation of river interlinking projects in the country.
    • It will replace the existing National Water Development Agency (NWDA) and will function as an umbrella body for all river linking projects
    • It is to be headed by a Government of India Secretary-rank officer.
    • Functions: 
      • Coordinate with neighbouring countries and concerned states and departments and will also have powers on issues related to the environment, wildlife and forest clearances under river linking projects and their legal aspects.
      • It will have the power to raise funds and act as a repository of borrowed funds or money received on deposit or loan given on interest. 
      • It will also have the power to set up a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) for individual link projects.

    Origin and intiatives of river-linking in India 

    • Background:  
      • The idea of interlinking of rivers in the Indian subcontinent is at least 150 years old. 
      • During the British Raj in India, Sir Arthur Cotton, a British general and irrigation engineer, first suggested linking the Ganga and the Cauvery for navigational purposes.
      • In the 1970s, the idea of transferring surplus water from a river to a water-deficit area was proposed by the then Union Irrigation Minister (earlier the Jal Shakti Ministry was known as the Ministry of Irrigation).
    • Creation of National Perspective Plan (NNP):
      • It was prepared by the then Ministry of Irrigation (now Ministry of Jal Shakti) in August 1980 for water resources development through the inter-basin transfer of water, for transferring water from water surplus basins to water-deficit basins. 
      • The NPP comprised two components:
        • Himalayan Rivers Development: It envisages the construction of storage reservoirs on the main Ganga and Brahmaputra Rivers and their principal tributaries in India and Nepal so as to conserve monsoon flows for irrigation and hydro-power generation, besides flood control. Links will transfer surplus flows of the Kosi, Gandak and Ghagra to the west. 
          • The Brahmaputra-Ganga Link will augment the dry-weather flow of the Ganga. 
          • Surplus flows that will become available on account of inter-linking of the Ganga and the Yamuna are proposed to be transferred to the drought-prone areas of Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat. 
    • Peninsular Rivers Development:  The main component of Peninsular Rivers Development is the “Southern Water Grid” which is envisaged to link Mahanadi, Godavari, Krishna, Pennar, and Cauvery rivers. 
      • The Peninsular component comprises the following four parts: Diversion of surplus flows of Mahanadi and Godavari to Krishna, Pennar, Cauvery and Vaigai. Diversion of west-flowing rivers of Kerala and Karnataka to the east. 
    • Under the NPP, the National Water Development Agency (NWDA) has identified 30 links (16 under Peninsular Component and 14 under Himalayan Component) for preparation of Feasibility Reports (FRs). 
    • The Ken-Betwa Link Project is the first project under the National Perspective Plan (NPP) for the interlinking of rivers.
      • The project involves the transfer of surplus water from the Ken river in Panna district in Madhya Pradesh to the Betwa river in Uttar Pradesh.
      • Both these rivers are tributaries of the river Yamuna.

    Benefits of River interlinking 

    •  Balancing the uneven water availability: Most part of the country is monsoon dependent and the quantum of rain varies widely across different regions.
      • Therefore, interlinking will help in balancing the uneven water availability.
    • Cater the logistic deficiency: This interlinking of river projects can help India in increasing the connectivity by creating more inland waterways, therefore, cater the logistic deficiency.
    • It will ensure that scarcity of water does not become an inhibitor to development in the country.
    • Tackles  droughts and floods
      • The Indian Rivers Inter-link aims to link India’s rivers with a network of reservoirs and canals and so reduce persistent floods in some parts and water shortages in other parts of India.
    • Round the year navigation, Employment generation and Hydropower generation.

    Issues Involved

    • Damage to ecology: Changes to Rivers natural course will have an impact on all the flora and fauna, the wetlands and the floodplains that are intricately linked to the river system. 
      • The long-term environmental impact of such a project is a major concern
      • Building dams could threaten the forests of the Himalayas and impact the functioning of the monsoon system. 
    • Seismic implications: The transfer of such enormous amounts of water will inundate forests and land for reservoirs, and the weight of billions of litres of water may even have seismic implications in the Himalayan region. 
    • Disagreement between the states: The states couldn’t agree on how water would be shared, particularly in the non-monsoonal months.
      • Water is a state subject in India, and even though the Centre is empowered to bring an inter-state river under its control to serve the national interest, it has effectively never done so owing to enormous resistance from the states.
    • High Costly: River inter-linking is an expensive business from building the link canals to the monitoring and maintenance infrastructure.
      • North to south inter-linking of rivers is physically challenging. The barrier imposed by the Vindhya mountains makes it expensive to lift water along the north and south axis.
    • Threaten the land and livelihoods of local economies
    •  The River Linking Projects will not only reduce the inflow of the northern rivers but also significantly reduce the sediments deposited by the rivers in deltas.
      • Fertile deltas will be under threat, with coastal erosion expected to threaten the land and livelihoods of local economies.

    Way Forward

    • The necessity and feasibility of river interlinking should be seen on a case to case basis, with adequate emphasis on easing out federal issues.
    • Introduce public-private partnerships in the water sector and revise water tariffs to recover at least operation and maintenance costs.
    • A participatory approach to encourage behavioural changes and community engagement in groundwater management.
    • River interlinking can lead to large scale displacement of people and animals.
      • Hence appropriate rehabilitation measures should be taken by the Government.
    • A careful scientific assessment of the project and its impact on the environment is necessary in case of a project of this magnitude especially with regard to Biodiversity 

    Source: IE