Interlinking of Indian Rivers: Issues and Challenges

  • The Central government is planning to implement Interlinking of Rivers (ILR) programme for transferring water from water surplus basins to water-deficit basins.
  • IRL programme aims to link Indian rivers through a network of reservoirs and canals across India.
  • The idea behind this mammoth project is to deal with the problem of drought and floods afflicting different parts of the country at the same time. It also targets to decrease farmers’ dependency on uncertain monsoon rains and bringing millions of hectares of cultivatable land under irrigation.
  • The National Water Development Agency (NWDA) identified 30 links to implement the ILR:
    • 16 under Peninsular Component
    • 14 under Himalayan Component
  • The project will build 30 links and some 3000 small and large reservoirs to connect Himalayan and Peninsular rivers to form a gigantic South Asian water grid.
  • These reservoirs will have the potential to generate 34 gigawatt of hydroelectric power.
  • The canals, planned to be 50 to 100 meters wide and more than 6 meters deep, would facilitate navigation.
  • The Himalayan component will benefit not only India but also Nepal and Bangladesh.
  • No State except Kerala is opposing the Interlinking of Rivers (ILR) Programme. Further Kerala Government is opposing only Pamba-Achankovil-Vaippar link which concerns the State.
  • The idea of inter-linking of rivers was first proposed in 19th centuary by British engineer Arther Cotton.
  • In the 1972, Dr. K L Rao, the Minister of Power and Irrigation in the Cabinet of Smt. Indira Gandhi, had proposed “National Water Grid” and suggested that the surplus water of Brahmaputra and Ganga basins should be diverted to water deficit areas of central and south India.
  • In 1980, the Ministry of Water Resources came out with a report entitled “National Perspectives for Water Resources Development”. This report had split the water development project in two parts – the Himalayan and Peninsular components.
  • In 1982, a committee of nominated experts was set up through National Water Development Agency to complete detailed studies, surveys and investigations in respect of reservoirs, canals and all aspects of feasibility river interlinking.
  • From 1982 the NWDA produced many reports, but the projects were not pursued.
  • In February 2012, while disposing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) lodged in the year 2002, the Supreme Court directed the Ministry of Water Resources to constitute an experts committee to pursue the matter with the governments .
  • The Special Committee on ILR, as per the directions of Supreme court, was constituted on September 23, 2014
  • However, it was only in 2015 that the scheme has been implemented in several segments such as the Godavari-Krishna interlinks in Andhra Pradesh and the Ken-Betwa interlinks in Madhya Pradesh




  • The Pre-Feasibility Reports (PFRs) of all 30 links have been prepared and circulated to the concerned State Governments.
  • After survey and investigations, Feasibility Reports (FRs) of 14 links under Peninsular Component and FRs of 2 links and draft FRs of 7 links (Indian portion) under Himalayan Component have been completed.
  • Four priority links under Peninsular Rivers Component have been identified for preparation of Detailed Project Report (DPR) viz; Ken-Betwa link project (KBLP) Phase –I & II, Damanganga-Pinjal link project, Par-Tapi-Narmada link project and Mahanadi Godavari link project.
  • The estimated cost of these four projects for which DPRs have been completed is furnished below:
Sl. No Name of the Project Estimated Cost (Rs. in crore) at 2015-16 price level
1. Ken-Betwa Link Project(Phase-I) 18057
2. Ken-Betwa Link Project(Phase-II) 8594
3. Damanganga-Pinjal Link Project 3008
4. Par-Tapi-Narmada Link Project 10211


  • The river linking project can mitigate the impact of flood in many regions.
  • It is expected to provide enough water to irrigate 1,35,000 square miles of farmland. Better irrigation in turn provides better food security for a growing population.
  • It will boost per-capita water availability for water-hungry Indians. The uncertainty of monsoons and the draught can be combated.
  • It will lead to generation of 34 Giga Watt of power.
  • The excess- scarcity regional disparities, i.e., while one place is facing flood the neighboring state would be struggling with drought can be regulated with better flood and drought control measures.
  • ILR will put an end to long legal battles between states and other entities over river basins and river valleys.
  • ILR can boost average annual income of farmers.
  • The large canals linking the rivers are also expected to facilitate inland navigation too
  • It is feared that implementation might cause vast forest tracts to be submerged, leading to huge loss of wildlife and natural vegetation.
  • Rehabilitation of the affected people would be a huge task for government. The whole project can submerge nearly 1.5 million people and lot of agricultural land.
  • It may transform water quality and microclimatic conditions, leading to consequences for public health.
Issue and Challenges
  • This mamoth project requires a large amount of money. The huge expenditure may likely generate fiscal problems that are difficult to handle. The maintenance costs and physical position of dams, canals, tunnels etc would also generate more financial burden.
  • Some of the ILR (inter-linking of rivers) schemes have international implications, with a possible impact on countries like Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh. It had caused much anger and dispute in Bangladesh which fears that diverting of water would result in long dry-spells for them since Both Ganga and Brahmaputra rivers provide 85% of the Bangladesh’s fresh water flow in the dry season
  • Destruction of rivers, aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity, downstream impacts, destruction of fisheries, salinity ingress, pollution concentration, destruction of groundwater recharge and increased methane emission from reservoirs are few of the other environmental damages.

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