River linking project can bring rural prosperity

By Arabinda Ghose


It could raise 13.2 per cent agriculture-household income.


The Standing Committee on Water Resources of fourteenth Lok Sabha in its 11th report tabled in both Houses of Parliament in October, 2008 referred to the report of the study by the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER), received by the Committee on April 7, 2008, said that as per the Council’s assessment, (a) The ILR programme involves huge construction activity, comparable to in scale to the Golden Quadrilateral (GQ) project, the construction activities would include dams, reservoirs and canals.


According to the NCAER studies on economic impact of ILR programme, it will have a major impact on the rural areas in general and the agriculture-dependent households in particular. The rural household per capita income with ILR is expected to increase 7.49 per cent as compared to the baseline growth without ILR scenario. Per capita household income of agriculture-dependent households in rural areas is expected to go up by 13.2 per cent. For non-agriculture dependent households per capita household income is expected to go up by 4.8 per cent in rural areas and 9.8 per cent in urban areas as compared to baseline scenario.

NCAER has also stated that the ILR programme would have both short and long term impact on the economy. The short term impact of the link canal is in the form of increased employment opportunities and the growth of the services sector. Sector supplying crucial inputs to the construction sector, such as cement, clay, iron and steel will also grow. In the medium to long term, the major impact of the link canals is through increased and assured irrigation. Although the major and direct gainers of the inter-linking project would be agriculture and agriculture-dependent households, the entire economy will be benefited to construction activities and increased agricultural production.


NCAER has estimated the cost of the entire system at Rs. 4,44,331.20 lakh crore, about 21 to 22 per cent less than the original 2002 estimate of Rs. 5,60,000 lakh crore.


The NCAER report was prepared somewhat earlier than the global economic meltdown had manifested itself, but the report would appear to have been written with the object of combating what may be described as signs of recession in Indian economy.


Investment in water resources sector, the report suggests, would be a very appropriate measure for creating jobs and boosting the economy.


In this connection, one cannot but recall the “New Deal” programme launched by US President Roosevelt in order to combat the great recession of the 1930s when three epoch-making water resources schemes were undertaken in the United States. The first was the Tennesse Valley Authority (TVA) in eastern USA, the second was the Grand Coulee Dam in northern USA and the third, Hoover Dam in western USA. One also recalls in this connection the visit of our Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in February 1949 to Knoxville, the headquarters of the TVA, in order to understand the scheme and the launch of the Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC) in Bihar-Bengal (now Jharkhand-Bengal) area based on that model.


It was the NDA which had given a big push to the inter-linking project. The drought had created all round problems in the country and former Karnataka Chief Minister S.M Krishna would like to forget the trauma he had suffered during those days because the extremely reduced flows in the Cauvery and the harassment he had to suffer from both his home State and Tamil Nadu for the situation.


When by August that year, it was clear that the country was in for a drought, BJP politicians mainly raised the issue of implementing the inter-linking project. Seminars and the like were organised in many areas, there was a presentation before Prime Minister Shri Vajpayee on October 12, 2002. On October 31, Atalji had announced the re-launch of the ILR system in the Lok Sabha which had received unanimous support, particularly from the then Leader of Opposition Smt Sonia Gandhi.


The Project had also received a boost in the Supreme Court. In September 2002, senior Advocate Ranjit Kumar (amicus curiae) had filed a petition in the apex court seeking appropriate direction on the need of river networking project, quoting the President of India’s speech of August 14, 2002.


The Task Force had come into being on December 13, 2002. It was headed by Shri Suresh Prabhu, MP. In the meantime, the Government had set the target with the court’s concurrence as December 31, 2016.


On November 25, 2008 the Supreme Court had asked the Government why not a single link was underway out of the 30. Advocate Ranjit Kumar had told the court that day that in most cases, the consensus between States had not yet worked out and in cases where it was done, the signatures of the State governments had not been obtained for months together (The Pioneer, November 26, 2008). The paper had reported that the Bench had directed the Centre to file a detailed status report by January 2009 indicating clearly the proposed dates for completion of the feasibility reports, DPRs and beginning of work on the proposed links in the Himalayan region and 16 links in the Peninsular region.

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