Obsession with DIVERSION of RIVERS
Dr Kalam's role from 2002 to 2007
On 25th Januray, 2007, on the eve of the 58th Republic Day of India, Dr A P J Abdul Kalam, the 11th President of India since July 2002 referring to DIVERSION of RIVERS once again said, "The interlinking of rivers and water bodies and use of technology for water collection, water recycling and water management will result in equitable distribution of water for drinking, irrigation, industry, navigation and as natural beauty. There will be no shortage of water in any part of the country nor will there be disasters due to floods, water logging etc." It was perhaps in his last speech as President on the subject.
Dr Kalam has been talking about "diversion of rivers" terming it as Networking of Rivers since August 2002. On the eve of the 55th anniversary of our Independence, he said, "It is paradoxical to see floods in one part of our country while some other parts face drought. This drought - flood phenomenon is a recurring feature. The need of the hour is to have a water mission, which will enable availability of water to the fields, villages, towns and industries throughout the year, even while maintaining environmental purity. One major part of the water mission would be networking of our rivers. Technological and project management capabilities of our country can rise to the occasion and make this river networking a reality with long term planning and proper investment...Such programmes should have a large scale people participation even at the conceptual and project planning stages. The entire programme should revolve around economic viability leading to continued prosperity for our people with larger employment potential, environmental sustainability, grass root level motivation and benefit sharing."
If one were to evaluate his performance keeping in mind the Preamble of the CONSTITUTION OF INDIA, it would appear that he did not do justice to the august office of President by proposing Diversion of Rivers/Interlinking of Rivers which was rejected by S R Hashim Commission on Water Resources, a High Power Committee of Government of India as per its Integrated Water Resource Development Plan.
Dr Kalam paid no heed to the solemn words of the Constitution. He proposed something which will cause millions of water disputes across the country and in South Asia. He did it perhaps under the influence of the ruling alliance at that moment which made the ILR project appear as if it was the panacea of all ills afflicting India nay South Asia.
Referring to diversion of rivers which he termed networking of rivers, in his 2002 speech Dr Kalam said, "Such programmes should have a large scale people participation even at the conceptual and project planning stages." He did not talk about any such participation after his proposal of ILR started taking shape at least on paper. It seems according to Dr Kalam, "people's participation" means saying "yes" to whatever governments propose be it diversion of rivers/ILR or SEZ or land acquisition.
Although Parliamentary Standing Committee on Water Resources had promised to the nation a debate on Diversion of Rivers in both houses of the parliament. He did not call for any people's participation when in utter contempt towards parliament Ken-Betwa MOU was signed although the much-advertised debate is yet to take place? Is the debate if any meant ask the nation to accept the fait accompli?
What is most shocking is that he has till date not taken cognizance of the sane voices, which say the project is 'Not the litmus test for patriotism'. Dr Kalam chooses to hear and read only those views which support his proposition anything is contrary to his views is anti-development and anti-national.
Given below is an extract of Dr Jairam Ramesh's speech in the Rajya Sabha debate on the working of Ministry of Water Resources.
Sir, since 1951, according to the Tenth Plan document,
there have been 1,300 irrigation projects that have been taken up
for implementation, out of which, only 900 have actually been
completed. So, in this country today, there are 400 irrigation
projects being implemented at some critical levels of financing, and
I think, really this reinforces the point that I want to make that
it is really project implementation, projects under implementation,
that need to be completed. You don't need a new category
called 'projects under contemplation'.
Sir, so much has been said on river linking. This was made the
touchstone of Indian nationalism by the NDA Government.
Sir, there is an Integrated Water Resource Development Plan. This is
the Report of the National Commission for Water Resource Development
set up by the Ministry of Water Resources. That submitted its Report
in September, 1999. Sir, I am just reading from page 9 of its
Summary. This is an official, Government of India document. This was
submitted to the Ministry of Water Resources. And it is so
confidential that when I asked for this Report, without casting
aspersions on anybody, I should say, I got a small note from the
Ministry, hand written, saying that "Volume-II is highly
confidential for which a specific request has to be made, and get
the written approval of the Secretary or the Minister." But I did
manage to get Volume-I, which is obviously in the public domain.
What does Volume-I say? Volume-I says:
"The Himalayan river linking data is not freely available, but on
the basis of public information, it appears that the Himalayan river
linking component is not feasible for the period of review up to
And then it goes on highlighting what the problems are in the entire
plan of linking the Himalayan rivers.
As far as the Peninsular river component is concerned, the
conclusion of this National Commission for Integrated Water
Resources Development is that "there is no imperative necessity for
massive water transfer. The assessed needs of the basins could be
met from full development and efficient utilisation of intra-basic
resources except in the case of Cauvery and Vaigai basins. Some
water transfer from Godavari towards the south should take care of
the deficit in the Cauvery and Vaigai basins."
Sir, the point which I want to make here is that the entire weight
of technical opinion has been to proceed with caution on the river-
If you look at the actual feasibility study, one feasibility study
that is actually put on the website of the Ministry, which is Ken-
Betwa link for which a feasibility study has been done, even there,
you will find, not only from a financial point of view, not only
from a project implementation point of view, but also from a human
and ecological point of view, that the implications of this river-
linking scheme are going to be quite stupendous and quite enormous.
Rather than making the river-linking scheme the touchstone of
patriotism, rather than making the entire scheme to be the litmus
test of who is Indian and who is not Indian, by these self-styled
patriots, I think we should go cautiously.
On the scale and magnitude that is being talking about, I think we
need to proceed with some caution; obviously, it needs to be
sequenced. There may be some cases where intra-basin transfers could
be financially feasible, but I do believe that in today's day and
age, with today's media, with today's civil society, it is not
possible for us to overlook the ecological and human population
resettlement consequences of such a massive scheme. Yesterday, you
would have seen in the newspapers, Sir, that there is a new study
that has come out, that has called into question the utility of
Bhakhra Nangal Dam. Sir, even today's day and age, I do not think
that we can rush into this project oblivious of the consequences of
resettlement of millions of people, and let us also face it, Sir,
India's track record in resettlement and rehabilitation has been
pathetic, has been poor. This is a blot on our collective
With the type of track record that we have had, if we embark on this
fanciful scheme of river linking with 30 storage reservoirs
involving massive displacement of people, I think, it is going to be
fraught with grave consequences.
The above speech shows that there are parliamentarians and ministers who are aware of the concerns of the citizens but Dr Kalam pays no heed to them.
One is beginning to wonder as to why is that the President of India seems to be representing only the State of Tamil Nadu, the only state which informed the Supreme Court that it wants this project to happen because it has exhausted all its water resources. Will Dr Kalam explain to the nation as to how does he represent others for instance Kerela, which has unanimously rejected the project?
We all know our ministers and officials get post retirement enlightenment. Will Dr Kalam respond to the issues and concerns raised in a point by point manner before his retirement? or will he become enlightened only after retirement?
Why has "Inconvenient Truth" and reality of climate change not compelled a rethinking with regard to such mega projects?. Will our government pay heed? Will so called Surplus and Deficit rivers remain so?
Dr Ramesh's speech does show that there are sane voices within the government. Is Dr Kalam listening? Is media taking note?