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Smart Waterways
Sep 14, 2017

[GS Paper III: (Infrastructure - Energy,Ports, Roads, Airports, Railways etc)]

Why in News?

The head of the National Waterways Development Technology, A.C. Kamraj, has recently suggested an alternate method of linking rivers called as ‘Smart Waterways’ under the National Waterways Project. 

What is a Smart Waterway?

  • It envisages a mechanism in which two rivers can be linked through a waterway built on an even plane enabling two-way flow between the rivers. 
  • Unlike the traditional interlinking of rivers which involves pumping of water using a lot of electricity, this method uses only the "excess flood water that goes to seas un-utilised" without recourse to any pumping. 
Note: As per The National Waterways Act, 2016, 111 waterways have been declared as National Waterways (NWs). Out of the 111 NWs, NW-1 (Allahabad-Haldia), NW-2 (Sadia-Dhubri) and NW-3 (Kollam-Kozhikode) are already operational.

Inter-Linking of Rivers Programme

  • The idea was first mooted during the British Raj when Sir Arthur Cotton, a British general and irrigation engineer suggested linking the Ganga and the Cauvery for navigational purposes. 
  • The interlinking of rivers programme (ILR) programme is aimed at linking different surplus rivers of the country with deficient rivers so that the excess water from surplus region could be diverted to deficient region. 
  • This would help in increasing irrigation intensity in the country, increasing water availability for drinking and industrial purposes, mitigating effect of drought and floods to a certain extent.  
Note: The Godavari-Krishna linkage (Pattiseema Lift Irrigation Scheme, Andhra Pradesh) is the first river interlinking project in India. 

Components of Programme

  • National Water Development Agency (NWDA) under the Ministry of Water Resources has been managing the implementation of the project since 1980s. The project has been split into three components:

→ A northern Himalayan rivers interlink 
→A southern peninsular interlink
→An intra-State rivers link

  • In 2015, a task force for Interlinking of Rivers was constituted. Various interlinking projects include Ken-Betwa Link, Damanganga–Pinjal Link Project and Par–Tapi–Narmada Link Project, Mahanadi–Godavari Link Project and Manas-Sankosh-Teesta-Ganga link. 

Need for such Projects

  • Reducing Regional Imbalance: India depends on monsoon rains that are erratic as well as regionally imbalanced. Interlinking of rivers will reduce the amount of surplus rain and river water which flows into the sea.
  • Irrigation for Agriculture: Interlinking can provide a solution to the rain-fed irrigation problems of the Indian agriculture through the transfer of surplus water to deficit regions.
  • Reduced floods: Construction of storage dams as proposed will considerably reduce the severity of floods and the resultant damages. Flood peaks are estimated to reduce by about 20 to 30% in the Ganga and Brahmaputra basins.  


  • Environmental Costs: Apart from the massive displacement of people, the project also threatens to obstruct the natural ecology of rivers. The proposed dams could threaten the forests of the Himalayas and impact the functioning of the monsoon system.
  • Climate change: In interlinking systems, it is assumed that the donor basin has surplus water that can be made available to the recipient basin. The whole concept goes for a toss if this basic assumption goes haywire for any system due to climate change. 
  • Economic Costs: It is estimated that the river interlinking will cost the government about Rs. 10 lakh crore and 15,000 km of new canals will have to be added to relocate 174 Billion Cubic Metres of water.
  •  Socio-Economic Impact: It is estimated that the network of canals extending to about 15000 km would displace about 5.5 million people, mostly tribals and farmers.

Way forward

While the conservation of ecology should not mean turning one’s back on interlinking of rivers, the approach to such mega projects require adequate caution to ensure that the economic benefits do not damage the country’s ecological balance. 

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