Monday, April 02, 2012

Inter-linking of rivers

There is a clamour for river interlinking mostly only from Tamil Nadu.

There is a clear reason for it though. Tamil Nadu is one of the most water-starved states in India. It has problems with all the neighbouring states in sharing river water. The main cause of concern for Tamil Nadu is in getting a fair share of Cauvery water. Then, there are lesser problems such as Mullai Periyaru with Kerala, Palaru with Andhra and so on.

Andhra had also agreed to provide Krishna river water to Chennai. This is not based on any riparian claim, but Andhra had agreed to this on goodwill. At times, Chennai gets some water, but this is not always automatic, left to the wishes of Andhra.

As other states try to appropriate the waters of the rivers that flow through them for agriculture and drinking water supply, Tamil Nadu will be the big sufferer.

Since every once in a while there are floods in North Indian perennial rivers, the idea of linking up all the rivers in India was mooted.

To go into the geological difficulties or the environmental impact will not be necessary here.

My view is that, the political landscape will simply not allow this to work. River interlinking is not the same as laying multi-lane highways. Every state wants it. All benefit from it, some more than others. Roads are zero sum games. But river water is. One can keep coming up with fancy schemes to make use of any excess water.

As water is not metered and no one is notionally paid any money, there is a tendency to waste water in large quantities. This is not going to change in the years to come. Farmers need more water; industries need more water and urban settlements need more water.

So, even if we miraculously link all the rivers, Tamil Nadu will find that the results are not to its liking. The project will cost a lot, will take many years to build, and after this, the first few years may be good for Tamil Nadu. Then, Karnataka and Andhra will find more ways of diverting additional waters to their own starved population, thereby making Tamil Nadu as poor as before.

What Tamil Nadu requires is something else. It is to make better use of the rain water. Recharging of all the water bodies effectively alone is sufficient to solve drinking water problems across the state. Further, it will go far in solving the irrigation requirements in many regions. Parts of Tamil Nadu will be arid, and rain water is not going to help these regions. It is here that Tamil Nadu should look at purchasing water from the neighbouring states. One way of doing this is to produce large amounts of electricity and use that as a barter chip.

Tamil Nadu is better placed than Karnataka and Andhra to produce more electricity. Tamil Nadu has the investing power as its finances seem to be much better. It can borrow much more money than the neighbouring states. The problem is with its approach to the industry. If it can wake up and become industry friendly, then it can achieve power surplus, and with it will come negotiating ability to purchase water.

This will be easier to achieve than believing in interlinking of rivers.


  1. Tamilnadu thinks that all rivers are their birth rights. Badri, remember it is natural resource, if there is heavy rain, Tamilnadu will get all the additional water. If there is no rain, Tamilnadu will not get any water, it is so simple formula.

    1. Right to water is right to live, People of TN are not beggers, we do not waiting for the excess food to be thrown on streets to pick it up. We deserve our share.

  2. How about telling them not to send any water in Monsoon times? Then they will realize whose birth rights it is.

  3. Badri, "Tamil Nadu has the investing power as its finances seem to be much better. It can borrow much more money than the neighbouring states" Can you back this claim?? Karnataka has one of the best state govt finances in the entire country! TNEB has one of the WORST financial health in the entire country! So much so that, 50% of windmills are idling because TNEB cant invest in evacuation capacity (Substation, etc.).. But TN has been doing its best on water front - country's largest desalination plant operates in Minjur; mandatory Rain Water Harvesting for buildings is a run-away success in TN! What we need is more law-abiding neighbouring states and an equitable barter system of electricity for water!

    1. TNEB is broke. But Tamil Nadu Government can directly borrow more and divert the money appropriately. Of course, its first job is to fix the broken electricity infrastructure and bring TNEB to a better position.

      As to Tamil Nadu vs Karnataka finances, I will revert with another post on their respective state GDPs, respective deficits and loans outstanding later. In fact, I am working on this for all the Southern states.