The national river interlinking scheme: a solution to India’s water challenges?

Water security Water supply Rivers Water

On paper, India has abundant water resources. Water is not always available when it is most needed, however, and neither is it evenly distributed throughout the country. Various schemes have been devised over the years to shift water from the wet north-east to the drier western parts of the country. Since the 2000s, the Bharatiya Janata Party has advocated for the construction of a series of canals that would link various rivers across the country. Water could then be shifted between those rivers according to the needs of various parts of the country. The cost of building those canals, the interstate politics of water sharing and the possibility of inadvertent environmental degradation are factors that are likely to slow, or even prevent, the realisation of the scheme.

Key points:

  • India has a long history of designing, but rarely implementing, grand infrastructure projects that aim to move water from high rainfall areas to arid regions.
  • While the current BJP government supports those grand infrastructure projects, most remain in the planning stage and any change in government is likely to halt further progress, particularly as the national river interlinking scheme will take years to complete.
  • Interstate disputes and an unwillingness to share water across state boundaries could also frustrate those plans.
  • Critics of the river interlinking scheme suggest that India has other options available to it that would improve its water security.
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