Concerns aplenty as Centre mulls linking Indravati river to Godavari, Cauvery

The Centre is devising a new plan to push implementation of the contentious Godavari-Cauvery river inter-linking project. 

Published: 23rd June 2019 04:43 AM  |   Last Updated: 23rd June 2019 04:43 AM   |  A+A-

A view of the parched Cauvery river in Tiruchy | File photo

Express News Service

CHENNAI: The Centre is devising a new plan to push implementation of the contentious Godavari-Cauvery river inter-linking project. Surplus water from Indravati river in Chhattisgarh is likely to be diverted to Cauvery. Already, preliminary discussions have been held with the States governments concerned. The National Water Development Agency (NWDA) is preparing a detailed project report (DPR).

Official sources told Express that the proposal is in the pipeline since the last two years.  A  technical feasibility note for the proposal was prepared and sent to the States concerned, including Tamil Nadu, for comments. Except Chhattisgarh and Odisha, for whom Indravati river is a lifeline, other States have given their concurrence. 

To iron out the concerns of upper riparian States, Union Minister for Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation held a meeting with Chhattisgarh water resources minister recently and accordingly NWDA is preparing the DPR. Indravati, which originates in the western slopes of Eastern Ghats in Kalahandi district of Odisha, is one of the major tributaries of Godavari. Indravati sub-basin covers a total area of about 40,625 sq.km and has a catchment area of 7,435 sq.km in Odisha. The length of river is about 535.80 km and it joins the Godavari near Bhadrakali village in Bijapur district of Chhattisgarh. Indravati river water use is governed by Godavari Water Disputes Tribunal (GWDT) award, according to which Odisha has to ensure 45 tmc of water at Odisha-Chhattisgarh border into Godavari. 

Why an alternative study?
The original plan of linking Mahanadi-Godavari-Krishna-Pennar-Cauvery-Vaigai-Gundar under Peninsular Component of National Perspective Plan was riddled with ecological and social problems. 
Mahanadi Godavari link is the first and critical, but Odisha government was not agreeable for the Mahanadi (Manibhadra) - Godavari (Dowlaiswaram) link due to large submergence involved in Manibhadra dam proposed under the link project.

Officials in NWDA confirmed that pending consensus on Mahanadi-Godavari and Godavari (Inchampalli)-Krishna link projects due to large submergence involved, alternative studies have been carried out to divert unutilised water share of Chhattisgarh in Indravati sub-basin in  Godavari basin (as per GWDT award) to Cauvery through Godavari-Cauvery link project. “Though the water yield is comparatively less, the project would help water deficit regions in Cauvery basin.” 

However, Union Water Resources Minister Nitin Gadkari, soon after taking charge for a second term, announced that DPR for Godavari-Krishna-Cauvery interlinking was ready and the government was committed to resolve water issues among the four southern States. 

Is project unsustainable?  Though the concept of transferring water from surplus river basins to deficit river basin looks rosy on paper, these mega projects involving thousands of crores of rupees in investment and major ecological implications, can go wrong and become unsustainable on the long run, warn researchers. 

A study titled “Indian Summer Monsoon Rainfall: Implications of Contrasting Trends in the Spatial Variability of Means and Extremes” conducted by researches of IIT-Bombay and IIT- Madras, which was published in scientific journal PLOS One, found major surplus basins such as Mahanadi, Godavari, Brahmani and West Flow River-I are witnessing significant decrease in rainfall. The decrease in water yield in recent period in major surplus basins has been more than 10 per cent in the case of Mahanadi, while Ganga, which is a major water deficit basin, has seen significant increase in rainfall, while Yamuna, Krishna and Cauvery river basins exhibit a decrease.

The paper says the hypothesis of  ‘wet gets wetter and dry gets drier’ is not valid in Indian scenario. “Our analysis also raises concerns about the suitability of major nation-wide projects related to river water-basin interlinking, in which the sustainability of water surplus conditions in river basins in response to a changing climate is not ascertained. Therefore, the water demand in a surplus basin first needs to be assessed and met under decreasing water availability scenarios,” said Sachin S Gunthe, co-author of the paper from Department of Civil Engineering, IIT-Madras. 

Serious consequences
Maj Gen Sudhir G Vombatkere, who holds a Ph.D in structural dynamics and served as Additional Director-General (Discipline and Vigilance) in Army HQ in Delhi, said a project such as this cannot afford to fail. This is the reason for people wanting to know the basic assumptions on which inter-linking of river projects is based, and also questioning the assumptions that have been put out, such as declaring a river basin as surplus, simultaneously relieving flood and drought, generation of power, etc. “The risk that there may be flaws in basic assumptions is too great to leave unquestioned. Hence, the basic assumptions and the performance criteria of the project need to be discussed transparently at district, State and national level.”

S Janakarajan, president of South Asia Consortium of Inter-Disciplinary Water Studies (SaciWATERs), said the concept is a total nonsense and non-implementable. “This is nothing but a political move. A State can preserve and maintain its local water bodies for self-sufficiency, instead of meddling with perennial river ecosystem based on horrendous assumptions. These projects will cause a huge amount of distortion in the existing environment and affect the whole cycle of life. It will be a serious threat to biodiversity of estuarine ecosystems.”

Proposal for TN 

River-linking inside state 

 This envisages diversion of 2,252 Mm3 of water, from Kattalai barrage at a location downstream of the existing Kattalai regulator across Cauvery river 
 Link will be terminated in Gundar river
 Total length of Cauvery - Vaigai - Gundar link canal is 255.60 km. The canal will run parallel and adjacent to the existing New Kattalai High Level Canal and then traverse 219.60 km before joining Gundar river 

Link canal route
Link canal traverses Karur, Tiruchirappalli, Pudukottai, Sivaganga, Ramana-thapuram and Virudhunagar districts passing through the river basins of Tirumani-muttar, Ponnanaiar, area covered by the streams between Cauvery and Vaigai, Vaigai basin and area covered by the streams between Vaigai and Vaippar

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