Defying gravity and logic: Why MP's Narmada-Kshipra link is a non-starter
- In 2012, the MP govt launched the Narmada-Kshipra river-linking project
- The project was completed last year, but has just been used for one month, during the Simhastha Kumbh Mela
- The Kshipra flows through the Malwa plateau, at a higher altitude to the Narmada valley
- In order to pump the water uphill, a lot of electricity needs to be used round the clock
- River-linking requires surplus water. Does the Narmada have that?
- Previous attempts to link the rivers, and why they were aborted
On 29 November 2012, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and senior BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani had laid the foundation stone for a project that would link the Narmada river with the Kshipra in Ujjaini village of Indore district.
It was a time when state elections were just a year away, and Chouhan had made tall claims that the old water flow of the Kshipra would be restored. Stating that the project would solve the chronic water shortage in the Malwa region, the CM had claimed that the project would be completed within one year, to save hundreds of villages in Malwa from desertification.
Cut to 2016, and it has been a year now since the project was completed. But, the water from Narmada river has not been diverted to the Kshipra, barring during the month-long Simhastha Kumbh Mela.
The annual cost of running the project is estimated to be at least Rs 550 crore, almost Rs 100 crore more than its total construction cost.
This enormous cost has led many experts to question the viability of the entire enterprise. Several environmentalists feel the whole idea of linking the Narmada to the Kshipra goes against the geography of the region. Adding operational costs to it makes it a loss-making venture.
A complicated and expensive affair
The river Narmada flows through the Satpura mountain range, whereas the Kshipra traverses the Malwa plateau. The project entails lifting the water from the Narmada to the Kshipra, which is situated at a much higher altitude.
A 50-kilometre long pipeline has been constructed between the two rivers. The water will need to be lifted from Narmada valley to a height of about 550 metres to reach the Kshipra. Needless to say, it is a daunting and expensive task.
Technical experts say an enormous amount of electricity is required to lift the water to such a height. The administration has to ensure that the two pumping stations built for the purpose are functional round-the-clock.
According to sources in the Narmada Valley Development Authority (NVDA), lifting a thousand litres of Narmada water through this project would cost approximately Rs 36. The government plans to transfer nearly 3.60 lakh cubic metres of water every day to the Kshipra, through machines running 24x7 on electricity. Electricity prices are only going to rise in the future, making this project even more unsustainable.
There's no way water can go against the law of gravity without human intervention. However, in this project, the state government is taking the water uphill. Considering the amount of money, time, labour and official machinery invested in the project, the whole idea defies all logic.
According to Rahmat, a water conservation activist associated with a Barwani-based NGO, Manthan Adhyayan Kendra: "All the rivers of Malwa region, including the Kshipra, have dried up because of massive deforestation in the name of industrialisation. This depleted has the water-retaining capacity of the rivers.
"Ideally, the government should have tried to expand the catchment area of these rivers. However, the government is trying to borrow water from the rivers of other regions to enliven the rivers of this area."
The question is, how long can this borrowed water keep the Kshipra alive?
Does Narmada have surplus water?
The fundamental principle of river-linking mandates that only surplus water is transferred from a river. So, the moot question is, does the Narmada have surplus water after fulfilling the needs of drinking water, agriculture and industries?
The Washington-based World Resources Centre has included Narmada among the top six 'endangered' rivers of the world. The Central Water Commission has admitted that water flow in Narmada has reduced by almost half during recent years.
In contrast, the total population in the Narmada valley is expected to exceed five crore people till the year 2026. It will put immense pressure on the river.
"The government has not explained whether there is enough water in the Narmada to fulfill the needs of the people at the places downstream of where the water will be diverted to the Kshipra river," says water scientist KG Vyas.
The government has disclosed the total cost of the project, but no figure has been given about the loss to the Narmada valley, or the total profit to the state.
Fanning political flames?
Attempts to turn the Narmada into the lifeline of the Malwa plateau are not new.
In 2002, the Digvijaya Singh-led Congress government had also considered the idea of linking Narmada and Kshipra rivers, but it was rejected citing the tremendous amount of electricity the project would require. Singh had also stated that providing funds for such a project was a big challenge.
On the other hand, Chouhan had said during the Assembly elections: "We would happily spend even Rs 1.5 lakh crore to bring Narmada water to Malwa." He had even announced the construction of a magnificent temple between the two rivers.
"It is not easy to find solutions to the problems related to water resources. The Kaveri dispute between Karnataka and Tamilnadu is an example. Water might be useful for dousing fire, but experience tells us that it is used to fan political flames," says Himanshu Thakkar, an activist with the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People.
Translated by Deepak Sharma, edited by Shreyas Sharma
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