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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Interlinking of Rivers - Impacts

The economic, environmental and social impacts of ILR are interrelated, enormous, and in some cases irreversible. 

Economic Impacts: The official cost of the project is estimated at Rs.5,60,000 crores ($120 billion), which the Task Force has admitted might go up to Rs.10,00,000 crores. Given that in the past, actual costs of large projects have been 562% more than the estimated costs, ILR could be as expensive as Rs.28,00,000 crores ($ 622 billion). Incomplete large irrigation projects themselves need as much as Rs.77,000 crores to be completed. India’s existing irrigation infrastructure (largest in the world) suffers from lack of funds for maintenance. Despite huge investments, irrigated land in AP, TN, UP and Orissa has decreased by 10%. Private contracts in ILR would lead to private control of our water resources, evident from past experiences in Chattisgarh (India), Cochabamba (Bolivia) leading to social injustice and unrest. Huge economic losses (related to human health, tourism, agriculture, fisheries, etc.) are expected from ILR, evident from past experiences. In the Aral Sea case, $1.25-2.5 billion has been lost every  year.

Environmental Impacts: Impacts on the environment affect the populations who are directly dependent on natural resources for their lives and livelihoods i.e. farmers, artisans and fisherpeople. ILR would obstruct the cleansing function of rivers. Reduction of freshwater flow into the sea would lead to saline water intrusion into the coastal ground water table, making it unfit for use. ILR will prevent fresh water inflow into estuaries and destroy them. Sunderbans, the world's largest mangrove forests and a World Heritage site, already affected by the Farakka Barrage, would be destroyed. Hilsa (an anadromous fish), which forms almost 33% of Bangladesh fish production and is the source of livelihood for 3 million fisherpeople in Bangladesh will be endangered. Linking rivers with different properties is like linking veins with different blood groups. ILR would lead to a depletion of soil fertility, forcing farmers to use polluting chemical fertilizers. We have lost 23 million hectares of irrigated land in India to salinisation, a state of permanent damage. We will lose more lands to salinisation through ILR. When more polluted rivers mix with less-polluted ones, pollution wouzld become uncontainable. According to the Task Force website, ILR will submerge 43,139 hectares of forest land around just the 16 peninsular links. It is yet to be estimated for the Himalayan links.
Social Impacts: It has been estimated that since independence, about 30 million people have been displaced in this way without being resettled adequately or being resettled at all. It is estimated that one million people might be displaced by ILR. Given that revised displacement in past projects has been as much as 6 times higher, the number could go up to six million. Apart from those who would be displaced, ILR would result in the loss of livelihoods of millions of farmers and fisher people, when estuaries, floodplains and deltas are destroyed. 
ECONOMIC IMPACTS

Exorbitant Project Costs
The official cost of the project is estimated at Rs.5,60,000 crores ($120 billion).

In its Action Plan - II submitted to the government in September 2003, the Task Force said that the initial estimate of Rs.5,60,000 crores by NWDA did not envisage yearly inflation, inclusion of State Governments in their programmes of implementation and costs relating to ecology, environment, wildlife, resettlement and rehabilitation of displaced people.[1]  According to the Task Force, the cost including all these components could go up to Rs.10,00,000 crores.
Considering that in the past, the final cost of 156 major irrigation projects has been 562% more than the estimated cost[2], ILR could turn out to be as expensive as Rs.28,00,000 crores ($ 622 billion) even as a conservative estimate.

Rs. 28,00,000 crores is
  • 1.2 times India's entire GDP
  • India's irrigation budget for 220 years (in today's terms)
  • 12.5 times our annual tax collection
  • 9.8 times our foreign exchange reserve
Existing projects do not have funds to be completed
Many large irrigation projects started in India remain incomplete, requiring as much as Rs.77,000 crores to be completed. The incomplete and 40-year old Indira Gandhi Canal project wound up 11 of its divisions and removed 169 engineers due to lack of funds in 2000.[3] 

Huge Maintenance costs
India has the largest irrigation infrastructure in the world with 4050 major and medium projects. Large irrigation projects are not only capital-intensive but also maintenance intensive. In spite of several hundred crores of rupees investment into expanding major irrigation infrastructure in India, AP, TN, UP and Orissa, which account for more than 50% of all irrigated land in India, have seen a 10% decrease in irrigated land.[4]


Corporate Control of water resources
Suresh Prabhu is reported to have said in a public meeting "Contracts will be given to foreign agencies, but not control of water"[5]. Our past experiences tell us that contract and control go together when it comes to water resources.

In 2003 a contract was signed between the Government and M/s Radius Water Inc. for 26-km long stretch of Shivnath River in Chattisgarh. After the contract was signed, Radius used police force to physically deny access to the river to the local communities from Rasmara, Mohlai, Siloda, Mahmara and Peepal Chhedi villages. People from these villages have lost their basic rights to fish and bathe in this river. The company also forcibly shut down wells within a radius of one kilometre from the river.[6]


If Radius Water Inc. could gain control over water resources for an investment of just Rs.9 to 10 crores, much of which came as a loan from a government corporation (M.P. Industrial Development Corporation), the kind of control that MNC water corporations with an annual turnover of billions of dollars could be much more severe.[7] Here is an example of such an experience in Bolivia.

In 1999, Cochabamba, a city in Bolivia, removed all water subsidies and privatised (to Bechtel Inc.) its municipal water supply following the recommendation of the World Bank. In a few weeks time, the water bills increased manifold making it unaffordable to alarge section of the people. Within months millions of Bolivians marched to Bolivia on a peaceful protest asking for “Universal protection of water rights”. The Government promised to reduce the prices but failed to keep its word. Over continued peaceful protests in the next few months, the Government arrested activists, killed protesters and the media censored. In April 2000, the people won. Bechtel left Bolivia, and water planning and management were handed over to the people. But, Bechtel is still suing Bolivia, and the Government in turn is harassing the water activists.[8]  

Economic Loss
It is estimated that huge economic losses would result from ILR. In the Aral Sea case, where Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers were diverted from reaching the sea to provide water to arid areas, it is estimated that $1.25 to $2.5 billion has been lost every year, which are just costs related to human health, tourism, agriculture.[9]

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS

Environment - People are interconnected
Environmental impacts should not be seen as separate from social and economic impacts. Humans depend on nature for all their needs (food, water, clothing, shelter) and a deterioration of environment would mean deterioration of human health and wellbeing. Environmental deterioration threatens the very survival of people whose lives and livelihoods directly depend on the land and water, i.e. farmers, artisans and fisher people.

Obstruction to natural flushing
Natural floods flush out the salt, toxins and other unnecessary growth from the river basins to the sea. ILR would obstruct this cleansing function of rivers.

Saline water intrusion
Reduction of freshwater flow into the sea would lead to saline water intrusion into the coastal ground water table. Coastal areas around Aral Sea suffer from highly saline ground water due to river diversion.

Destruction of estuaries and fisheries
River water flowing into the sea sustains estuaries, the second most productive ecosystems, which support fisheries and other useful and important plants (mangroves) and animals (crabs, oysters, prawns, etc.) ILR will prevent fresh water inflow into estuaries and destroy them. There is the danger of the Sunderbans, the world's largest mangrove forests and a World Heritage site, already affected by the Farakka Barrage, being destroyed if ILR is implemented.[10]

Dams replace naturally silt-laden, turbulent and seasonally warm water flow (which is essential for fish life to thrive), with less silted, slow-flowing and colder waters, not suitable for fish life. Moreover, some fish are 'anadromous', that is they migrate upstream from the sea for several kilometres for spawning and during winters. Dams prevent fish from travelling upstream and have resulted in dwindling of fish and in some cases, even their extinction.

Hilsa (Clupeidae Tenualosa Ilisha), an anadromous fish which forms almost 33% of Bangladesh fish production and is the source of livelihood for 3 million fisher people in Bangladesh will be endangered through ILR.10

In the USA, Hoover Dam on Colorado river, and dams on Colombia river have led to a near extinction of the bony tail, razorback sucker and the salmon, considered delicacies. When the large Tellico Dam was nearing completion, the courts ordered that the project be abandoned in spite of huge expenditure, because the river was home to small dart fish not present anywhere else. In the Aral sea, diversion of Amu and Syr Darya rivers flowing into the sea, has reduced the number of fish species from 20 to five, and fish catch from 40,000 tonnes per year to almost zero.

After the Pak Mun Dam was built in Thailand, all 150 fish species that had inhabited the Mun River virtually disappeared. The building of Egypt's Aswan Dam in 1970 caused the number of commercially harvested fish to drop by almost two-thirds.[11]

Danger in linking rivers with different properties
Rivers have different water properties (hardness, softness, mineral content, extent of aeration, transparency, electro-chemical properties, and healing power) depending on their sources, catchments and their basins as a whole. Linking rivers with different properties is like linking veins with different blood groups.

Loss of soil fertility
Natural floods deposit fertile silt on the floodplains, replenishing the soil every year to make sustainable agriculture possible.

“… where 'normal' floods have been eradicated by dams, there have been high costs to farmers, fisher people and other dependent on floodplain resources.” 
- World Commission on Dams report

ILR would obstruct natural floods and the silt deposition leading to a depletion of soil fertility. Farmers would then have to resort to using chemical fertilizers, which further pollute the land and reduce its fertility. Over a few decades ago, the silt carried by the Indus River (with its fifth highest sediment rate in the world) has reduced from 600 to 36 million tons annually, and has shrunk the Indus deltas from 350 sq. km. to 25 sq. km.[12] Aswan Dam traps 98% of the natural, black silt, which the farmers depended on for millennia. This is being substituted by about a million tons of chemical fertilizer every year. 

Water logging and salinisation
Almost all major irrigation projects have poor drainage leading to water logging of the land. Waterlogged lands eventually become saline in the following way. All irrigation water carries dissolved salts. On evaporation of water from the dry surface of the soil, these salts are left behind in a crusty layer.

50% of all canal - large dam irrigated land in the world is saline to the extent that it can affect production.[13] No viable technology has been invented to reverse the process of salinisation, leaving us with no choice but to abandon these lands forever.

According to the Sixth Plan, 13 million hectares of land have become waterlogged or saline. 175-200 million hectares (about 70%) of agricultural and cultivable land were degraded in 1985. Ukai Dam project, Chambal Project and other projects in the water-deficit areas are classic examples of irrigation projects being converted into costly reclamation projects.

Pollution
When more polluted rivers mix with less-polluted ones, pollution would become uncontainable. This also means that it would be impossible to hold any one industry or institution accountable for the pollution. According to World Water Development Report of the UN, 'the linking of world's worst polluted rivers may spread disease and misery amongst the unsuspecting population.'[14]

Submergence of Forests
The accelerated rate of deforestation around the world and their impacts on climate, water and oxygen availability, soil health and wildlife are well known. According to the Task Force website, ILR will submerge 43,139 hectares of forest land around just the 16 peninsular links. It is yet to be estimated for the Himalayan links.
SOCIAL IMPACTS
Major irrigation projects displace people living in the areas submerged by the reservoirs. It has been estimated that since independence, about 30 million people have been displaced in this way without being resettled adequately or being resettled at all.

“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

"Let it not be said of India that this great Republic in a hurry to develop itself, is devastating the green mother earth and uprooting our tribal populations"
-      Former President K.R.Narayan, 26 Jan, 2001

According to the Task Force website, about 5 lakh people would be displaced by ILR by just the 16 peninsular links. The official number for the entire project is expected to go up to a million.

Revised displacement in past projects has been 6 times higher
The following table gives the ratio of initial estimate of oustees to its revised estimate of large water projects in the past.

Project
Initial estimate (Year)
Revised estimate
(Year)
No. of times higher
AP Irrigation - II
63,000 (1986)
1,50,000 (1994)
2.5
Gujrat Medium Irrig - II
63,600
1,40,370 (1994)
2.2
Karnataka Irrigation
20,000 (1978)
2,40,000 (1994)
12.0
M.P. Medium Irrigation
8,000 (1981)
19,000 (1994)
2.4
Sardar Sarovar
33,000 (1985)
3,20,000 (1993)
9.7
Upper Indravati
8,531
16,080 (1994)
1.9
Source: Vandana Shiva, 2003; “Sujalam”

On an average, the revised estimate has been six times higher than the initial one. Applying that to ILR, we could be displacing as many as six million people.

Dismal history of resettlement
“Little or no meaningful participation of affected people in the planning and implementation of dam projects - including resettlement and rehabilitation - has taken place…”
- World Commission on Dams

Loss of livelihoods and more poverty
Apart from the millions of people who would be displaced by ILR, several more millions would lose their livelihoods directly dependent on natural resources to be affected by ILR. For instance in Aral Sea, the large-scale diversions created an ecological and human disaster. Increasingly saline solid reduced agricultural productivity resulting in some of the worst poverty in the region. 3 million fisher people in Bangladesh dependent on Hilsa fish, which will be endangered through ILR. Several millions farmers and fisher people living along the Coromandel Coast will be affected. 



[1]  The Hindu, Sep 10, 2003:

B.B.Vohra, Irrigation of the Nation www.himalmag.com/96aug/analysis.htm

[2] B.B.Vohra, Managing India’s Water Resources (1988) –The INTACH Environmental Series

[3] M P Jain; Financial Express, July 31, 2000  

[4] S.Selvarajan, ‘Sustaining India’s Irrigation Infrastructure’; Indian Council for Agricultural Research www.icar.org.in/ncap/publications/Policybreifs/policybreif15.pdf

[5] ILR Task Force meeting with Civil Society; Feb 11, 2004, Pune

[6] Vandana Shiva, Captive Water; Resurgence – July/Aug 2003; www.resurgence.gn.apc.org/issues/shiva219.htm

[7] Medha Patkar, ‘’Questioning the Diktat”, River Linking: A Millennium Folly?; January 2004

[8] Vandana Shiva, 2002: “Water Wars”

[9] Biksham Gujja and Hajara Shaik, January 2004’: Linking of Rivers: Lessons from the Past; River Linking: A Millennial Folly?

[10] Dr.Jamal Anwar, January 2004; India-Bangladesh: 21st Century Battle for Water Sharing; [River Linking: A Millennial Folly?]

[11] Maude Barlow: “The Crisis” [Blue Gold]

[12] Iqbal Tareen, People-Against-Kalabagh-Dam Action Committee;

[13] Food and Agricultural Organization: www.fao.org/DOCREP/x0262e/x0262e01.htm

[14] Gopal Krishna; Independent Media Center; March 17, 2003;

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