Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Interlinking of Rivers: Assumptions & Claims

1. Rivers can be clearly classified as water-surplus and water-deficit, and they can be equalized through water transfer.
"Floods = water surplus, and drought = water deficit" is the basis for this assumption. However, in reality there are no permanent water-surplus and permanent water-deficit rivers. Themethod used by the Government to calculate ‘surplus’ and ‘deficit’ has been questioned bymany experts. And whatever has been calculated as 'surplus' is strongly contested. 
2. River water that flows into the sea is water wasted.
River water flow into the sea is very essential to maintain the water cycle. Further, floodwater brings down sediments that renew the fertility of the delta areas annually, replacing lossdue to natural erosion. It is essential for the survival of fertile deltas (some of the most productive agricultural lands) and estuaries (which support the richest fisheries). Fresh river flow is also essential to control saltwater intrusion into the coastal ground water. Past experiments in river diversion have devastated deltas and estuaries. 
1. Permanent drought proofing
Most drought-affected areas lie in the upper river basins, and are not covered by ILR. Huge investments in ILR further remove resources away from spreading other successful initiatives in drought proofing.  

2. Permanent flood proofing
After 50 years of dam building, flood-prone areas in India have increased from 25 million hectares to 40 million hectares. In the USA, despite heavy investment in flood control through large projects, inflation-adjusted cost of flood damage has doubled since 1937. Only 2.5-5% of floodwaters in Brahmaputra are to be diverted through ILR, and this cannot relieve flood. The timing of floods in the surmised surplus areas does not coincide with that of drought in the surmised deficit areas. Floods aggravate due to breaching of embankments and siltation of reservoirs and sudden releases of water to prevent damage to the dam structure during peak flood.
3. Food Security
The claimed figure of 35 million hectares has been calculated at an efficiency of 60%, while Indian irrigation is only 20-35% efficient. Increasing irrigation efficiency by a mere 10% will irrigate 14 million hectares.  Contrary to popular belief, only less than 40% irrigation in India is through large projects. We have lost 23 million hectares of irrigated land in India to salinization of soil due to over-irrigation or inefficient use of water, a state of permanent damage. 50% of all irrigated land in the world is saline to the extent it can affect production. Irrigated land has decreased by 10% in AP, TN, Orissa and UP despite thousands of crores of rupees invested into large irrigation projects. Increasing irrigation has mostly led to the expansion of water-intensive cash crops like sugarcane (500% since independence) and cotton for export, and not that of food grains (pulses increased only 140% since independence) to feed our people. Food security is also an issue of food distribution, made evident by the fact that 20% of the population is underfed while the country has 30% of its total production locked up and deteriorating in its godowns, while food is being exported. 
ASSUMPTION 1: Rivers can be clearly classified as water surplus and water deficit, and they can be equalized through water transfer.
"Floods = water surplus, and drought = water deficit" is the basis of this assumption. However, in reality there are no permanent water-surplus and permanent water-deficit areas. Floods and droughts are seasonal in nature and can occur in the same place. Cherrapunji, which receives the highest average annual rainfall in the world (12,000 mm) suffers acute water shortage for six months in a year.[i]
In Orissa, 12 districts are affected by floods in the monsoon months, and by drought in the summer months. Map Source: UN
This paradox of floods and droughts occurring in the same place is because of deforestation (general loss of green cover) and other hard-engineering human interventions in nature. ILR does not include any plans for afforestation.
The method used by the Government to calculate ‘surplus’ and ‘deficit’ has been questioned by many experts, and whatever has been calculated as 'surplus' is strongly contested both by experts and more importantly, by local people. The Ganges, which is water deficit according to the 'Indo-Bangladesh WaterSharing Treaty', is shown as water surplus in ILR.[ii] 
Though the centre has assumed that Mahanadi and Godavari have surplus water to be transferred to other basins, Orissa and AP state governments disagree with the centre. Even if Godavari has some amounts of water left unutilized, many regional communities are already fighting to use every bit of it, and there will be hardly anything left to be transferred to the Krishna basin. 
‘Water-deficit’areas like Cauvery and Krishna basins are virtually exporting water by growing water-intensive crops like sugarcane, hybrid paddy, banana and grapes for export outside the basin or abroad.
ASSUMPTION 2. River water that flows into the sea is water wasted.
River water flow into the sea is very essential to maintain the water cycle. 
i. It is essential for the survival of fertile deltas and estuaries, which support some of the most productive agriculture and the richest fisheries. River flow deposits silt and sediment along the river course, and finally in very large quantities into the river mouth and coastal/marine areas beyond the mouth. This silt helps to actually form the coast, stave off sea-wave induced erosion, strengthen banks, and enrich the waters with nutrients that are critical forcoastal life. Infusion of freshwater into the saline waters of the coast, helping to maintain adelicate balance of pH and other factors that are critical for marine life.
ii. Fresh river flow is also essential to control saltwater intrusion into the coastal ground water. 
iii. Floodwaters annually replenish topsoil lost in the areas that are subject to flood and in the delta region due to wind erosion and erosion due to rainfall runoff.
Past experiments in river diversion have devastated deltas and estuaries.  
·     The Akosombo Dam on the Volta River in Ghana has reduced the supply of sediment to the coast, resulting in coastal erosion at the rate of 10 to 15 metres per year.
·     Dams and diversions have reduced the discharge of several rivers into the Caspian, Black, and Azov Seas by 50 to 70 per cent, causing a reduction of commercial fisheries by over 90 per cent. The loss, between 1977 and 1987, was $ 35 billion.
·     In Pakistan and India, diversions on the mighty Indus and its tributaries have reduced water outflow into the Arabian Sea by 80 percent, destroying deltaic mangroves, which once stretched over 250,000 hectares and were spawning grounds for coastal fisheries.[iii]
This drought-flood phenomenon is a recurring feature. The need of the hour is to have a water mission … (and carry out) networking of our rivers.”
- Abdul Kalam, Aug 15, 2002
Most drought-prone areas are not covered
Most drought-affected areas lie in the upper river basins, where most of the poorest peoplelive. Taking water to these uplands involves spending tremendous energy and money to pump the water. For this reason, ILR is designed such that most of the linking canals serve lower basins. But these areas anyway have relatively adequate amount of water, and where thefarmers are better off than their upper-basin counterparts. The ILR Project neglects much of the most-needy drought-prone areas of West AP, North Karnataka, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. 
Water needs projection 
The Government of India commission projected that India would need 973 to 1180 BCM of water in the year 2050, depending on the projects being high or low. But according to Mr. Suresh Prabhu, by 2050 India would need 1447 BCM of water; how the figure was arrived at is not explained. This is 49% higher than the low demand projection of the National Commissionand 23% higher than the high-demand projection of the National Commission.[iv]
Heavy investment in ILR further removes resources away from implementing and spreading other successful initiatives in drought-proofing.  
"Hard engineering" approaches to "control flood" through large dams and embankments havebeen largely discredited worldwide. 
"While predictions of avoidable flood damage are commonly found in project proposals, few reliable statistics are ever collected on whether these predictions are realised. The commission notes that while dams have reduced flood damage in some cases, they have increased itin others.”
- World Commission on Dams 
After 50 years of dam building, flood-prone areas in India have increased from 25 to 40 million hectares.[v] In the USA, despite heavy investment in flood control through large projects ($140 billion in the last 25 years), inflation-adjusted cost of flood damage has doubled since 1937, with the number of people killed each year remaining roughly the same, costing $5 billion each year.[vi] Floods affected the lives on average, of 65 million people between 1972 and 1996, more than any other type of disaster, including war, drought and famine.[vii]
Only 2.5-5% of floods are to be diverted by ILR
Brahmaputra has a monsoonal flow of 30,000 - 60,000 cumecs. The carrying capacity of ILR diversion canals has been estimated to divert a maximum of 1,500 cumecs water, which is a mere 2.5 - 5% of the entire monsoonal flow. How can diverting such a small amount of the water claim to control or even mitigate floods?
Timing of floods does not coincide with that of drought
Floods in the Ganga-Brahmaputra basins (July to October) is not when there is most need for water in the Peninsular Rivers (January to May). This necessitates the construction of large storage (or detention) structures, which have a limitation in the amount of water they can store and their own lifetimes and involve more inundation areas, displacement of population and other problems associated with large dams.
Flood control conflicts with power generation and irrigation
Not all dams are designed to control floods. Even where they are built with flood-cushion design, increased power generation and irrigation requirements take precedence over flood-protection. Even power generation and irrigation compete for every litre of water.
Floods aggravate due to siltation of dams and reservoirs
Deforestation has resulted in the Himalayan rivers experiencing the highest rates of siltation in the world. 
“Himalayan forests are the greatest of national assets and to them we owe the richness of the country. The denudation and under-development of the Himalayan slopes lead to a great intensity and frequency of floods, recurrent erosion…” (Report of the Kumaon Forests Fact-Finding Committee, 1960)
Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghna carries over 2.9 billion tonnes of sediment into the Bay of Bengal, which is 1/3rd of global sediment transport to the ocean world. 
Trapping and accumulation of this silt by dams and reservoirs built on these rivers has reduced their capacities at rates much higher than initially estimated. Tehri Dam, which was builtto last 100 years, is now expected to be just 30-40 years. 

Assumed Rate
(acre feet)
Actual rate
(acre feet)
Number of times higher
Nizamsagar Reservoir
Ramganga Reservoir
Tungabhadra Reservoir
Mauthon Reservoir
Masanjor Dam
Maithar Dam
Panchet Dam
(Source: Vandana Shiva; Sujalam, 2003)
ILR neither addresses the problem of siltation nor includes plans for afforestation. Both these problems will affect the cost-benefit analysis and the financial viability of the Project. 
Floods aggravate due to sudden releases from dams
There are many instances of dams causing damages in downstream areas due to sudden release of large quantities of water due to safety considerations. In Sep 1980, hundreds of people were killed after releases from Hirakud, a dam meant for flood-control. In 1978, nearly 65,000 people in Punjab were made homeless by floods exacerbated by forced discharges from the Bhakra Nangal Dam. A member of a committee set up to investigate admitted that "If something had happened to the dam, then half of Punjab would have been inundated" This repeated 11 yrs later. 6
In June 1983, due to heavy floods, one of two of the Glen Canyon dam’s (on Colorado river, USA) spillways (tunnels through rock at the side of the dam) partially caved in threatening the stability of the dam and both spillways had to be shut. Powell Reservoir still kept rising and would have overtopped the gates of the endangered spillways had not plywood boards obtained from a local lumberyard been fastened to the top of the gates, holding back the reservoir for a few more days. The reservoir peaked at just less than 2 cms of its storage capacity, thus saving the lower Colorado from probably the most massive flood in human history!6 Environmentalists in the US call the Glen Canyon Dam one of "America’s most regrettable environmental mistakes".
“Interlinking rivers alone holds the key to tackle ... shortfall in food production…”
- Abdul Kalam, Tirupati, Nov 21, 2003
Claim: ILR will irrigate 35 million hectares increasing food production from 220 MT to 450 MT by 2050.
Misleading irrigation potential
After 20 years of constructing the Tehri Dam, which began in 1967, the cost of constructionincreased by 7 times and irrigation potential estimated reduced by 50%.  The Indian Government (and the World Bank) usually calculates the irrigation potential of large projects at 60% efficiency. In reality, Indian Irrigation is only 20-35% efficient (which means that at best, only 35% of water from the projects reaches the crops, with the rest being lost due to evaporation and seepage.)[viii] This brings down the official claim of 35 to 18 million hectares. 
Increasing irrigation efficiency by 10% will irrigate 14 million hectares
According to the mid-term review of the Ninth Plan, 10% increase in irrigation efficiency could lead to additional irrigation potential of 14 M Ha, which is more than 1/3 of the projected figure at 60% efficiency, and more than 2/3 of the actual figure at 30% efficiency.
Dams contribute to only 40% of all irrigation and 16% of all food production
The claim that ‘most of the irrigation in India is through large dams and canals’ is a myth. Only less than 40% of irrigation in India is through dams and canals, while more than 60% of it is done by wells, tanks and traditional water structures. Even in the United States, 2/3 of irrigation is through minor irrigation (pond, wells, etc.) 6
“An estimated 30 to 40% of the 271 million hectares of irrigated lands worldwide rely on dams. Dams are estimated to contribute to 12-16% of world food production.”
- World Commission on Dams report
Irrigated land has decreased 10% despite expanding infrastructure
Large irrigation projects are very expensive not only to build but also to maintain. India has so far spent Rs. 88,000 crores on irrigation since 1950 but does not have the money to maintain them. In AP, TN, UP, Bihar and Orissa (which account for 50% of all irrigated land in India), in spite of continuous expansion of irrigation projects, total irrigated land has reduced by about 10% since 1985.[ix]   
“The situation today is that since 1951, 246 big surface irrigation projects have been initiated. Only 66 out of these have been completed, 181 are still under construction. Perhaps we can safely say that almost no benefit has come to the people from these projects. For 16 years, we have poured out money. The people have got nothing back, no irrigation, no water,no increase in production, no help in their daily life."
- Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, inaugurating the State Irrigation Ministers’ Conf in Aug 1986
Increasing irrigation does not lead to food-security
Reducing the problem of food security to simply increasing irrigation is simplistic, very misleading and can be detrimental. Achieving food security includes three main components: 
1.      Resource-efficiency of agriculture
2.      The kinds of crops promoted
3.      Food distribution
1. Intensive irrigation promotes cultivation of water-intensive crops
Traditionally, crops have been cultivated according to the rainfall availability and soil qualities of different regions. Millets, pulses, oil seeds and groundnut are rainfed crops and do notneed much irrigation, and were traditionally grown in low-rainfall areas. Sugarcane, rice and wheat were traditionally grown in high-rainfall areas. However, during Green Revolution, water-guzzling cash crops like sugarcane, and hybrid varieties of wheat and rice were promoted increasing the need for irrigation. For instance, the hybrid wheat requires 5 times more water than the traditional wheat varieties.[x] Today, sugarcane occupies 2.5 per cent of the cultivated area in Maharashtra but consumes 60 per cent of the irrigation water.[xi]
The table given here shows that dryland crops produce several times more using the same amount of water used for rice.  
Water requirement (cm)
Yield (kg/ha)
Water efficiency
(per m of water)
(Source: Vandana Shiva; Sujalam, 2003)
A move to revive traditional varieties of seeds and reviving dryland farming will reduce our water needs by at least five times.
2. Irrigation promotes cash crops and discourages food crops
Increase in irrigation has led to promoting cash crops like sugarcane and cotton and reduction of food crops. This does not take us closer to food security, but only farther away from it. Sugarcane farmers are usually large, rich farmers and politically powerful, and produce for polluting sugar mills (owned by the politically powerful) for sugar and alcohol production. 
The following table compares the production of sugarcane vs. pulses. 
1950-51 (MT)
2000-01 (MT)
(Source: Vandana Shiva; Sujalam, 2003)
This amounts to exporting water to other countries and not attaining food security. Maharashtra has the highest number of dams, highest production in sugar, lowest irrigated area in proportion to its cultivable area and also the dismal distinction of having the highest number of villages supplied water by tankers almost every summer. Instead of using the scarce water for cultivation of water guzzling crops like sugarcane, and then subsidising export of sugar so produced, that water can be more appropriately used to fulfil the basic needs of drinking water and protective irrigation at many places. 
According to government sponsored health survey, the settler's per capita consumption of calories and proteins is below that expected of Indians living in the poverty line. Malnutrition is more common in children of canal settlers than among the children of pastoralists in thepoorest districts of Rajasthan not affected by the canal whose diet consists of bajra and other dairy products" 
- "There's a snake" by Goldman; extracted from "Silenced Rivers"
3. 30% of food produced is locked up when 20% of our population is underfed.
Equitable food distribution needs more immediate attention than production. In 2000-01, which saw a total production of 211 MT food grains, the national buffer stock of food grains stood at 60 MT. Yet an estimated 200 million people were underfed. [xii]
Increasing irrigation means losing land to irreversible salinisation
According to the Sixth Plan, 7 million hectares of land have become saline, the current estimate being 23 million hectares. 50% of all irrigated land in the world is saline to the extent itcan affect production.  

Claim: 34,000 MW power will be generated.
Questions to the Task Force
·     How much energy will be used in pumping, and lifting water for long-distance transfer?
·     Where are the power plants planned?
·     Is the projected 34,000 MW the energy generated, or the net energy available for use after energy is used for long-distance transfer and loss during transmission?
·     How and where will the power be transmitted?
Claim: Employment generation in construction and maintenance. 
“… where 'normal' floods have been eradicated by dams, there have been high costs to farmers, fisherpeople and others dependent on floodplain resources.” 
- World Commission on Dams report
First of all, employment generation by itself cannot be a valid justification for ILR, or for anyproject for that matter. Even a project to move rocks from AP to Tamil Nadu by team A, andmoving them back to AP by team B will generate employment. But it hardly justifies the project.
ILR is expected to generate permanent unemployment for millions of people who are directly dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods. 
3 million fisherpeople in Bangladesh dependent on Hilsa fish, which will be endangered through ILR. [xiii]
1 million people (official estimate) and 6 million people (unofficial estimate) to be displaced by ILR.
In the Aral Sea case, 90,000 fisherpeople lost their livelihoods permanently.[xiv] 
Aral Sea "the large-scale diversions created an ecological and human disaster. Increasingly saline soil reduced agricultural productivity resulting in some of the worst poverty in the region.
“Little or no meaningful participation of affected people in the planning and implementation of dam projects - including resettlement and rehabilitation - has taken place….. The WCD Case Studies show that the direct adverse impacts of dams have fallen disproportionately on rural dwellers, subsistence farmers, indigenous peoples, ethnic minorities, and women.”
- World Commission on Dams
[i] World’s Wettest area dries up; BBC News, April 28, 2003
[ii] Ramaswamy Iyer, Former Secretary, Ministry of Water Resources Ministry
[iii] Ashis Kothari: “When Logic Doesn’t Wash”; June 2003
[iv] Himanshu Thakkar “River linking: Death warrant for India’s rivers”; January 2004
[v] B.B.Vohra, quoting ‘National Commission on Floods’; Land and Water: Towards a Policy for Life-Support Systems; INTACH Environmental Series; 1988
[vi] Sandra Postel, Rivers for Life, 2003
[vii] World Commission on Dams; www.dams.org/report/report_factsheet.htm
[viii] World Bank's 1991 'India Irrigation Sector Review'
[ix] S.Selvarajan, Indian Council for Agricultural Research; Sustaining India's Irrigation Infrastructure; Dec 2001 www.icar.org.in/ncap/publications/Policybreifs/policybreif15.pdf
[x] Vandana Shiva, Sujalam: Living Waters, The Impact of the River Linking Project; 2003
[xii] Food Corporation of India
[xiii] Dr. Jamal Anwar: India  Bangladesh: 21st Century Battle for Water-Sharing; Jan 2004
[xiv] Biksham Gujja and Hajara Shaik; Linking of Rivers, Lessons from the Past, Jan 2004

No comments: