Linking Rivers

  • IASbaba
  • February 18, 2022
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Dec 15: Linking Rivers –  


  • GS-2: Issues relating to development and management of Water
  • GS-2: Issues and challenges pertaining to the federal structure

Linking Rivers

Context: Union Cabinet has recently approved the funding and implementation of Ken-Betwa inter-linking of rivers project. 

Ken-Betwa inter-linking of rivers project

  • This project involves transfer of water from the Ken to the Betwa River through the construction of Daudhan Dam and a canal linking the two rivers, the Lower Orr Project, Kotha Barrage -and Bina Complex Multipurpose Project.
  • The interlinking of rivers (ILR) programme is a major endeavour to create additional storage facilities and transfer water from water-surplus regions to more drought-prone areas.


  • The Project will be of immense benefit to the water starved Bundelkhand region, spread across the states of MP and UP.
  • It will provide water for irrigation of 10.62 lakh ha annually, drinking water supply to a population of about 62 lakhs
  • Generate 103 MW of hydropower and 27 MW solar power
  • Expected to boost socio-economic prosperity in the backward Bundelkhand region on account of increased agricultural activities and employment generation. It would also help in arresting distress migration from this region.
  • This project also comprehensively provides for environment management and safeguards. For this purpose a comprehensive landscape management plan is under finalization by Wildlife Institute of India.

Linking Rivers

India witnesses spatial and temporal variations in rainfall, which often makes some areas as flood prone whereas others as drought prone. Also, Himalayan rivers flowing in northern part of the country are perennial, while rivers in peninsular India are mostly seasonal. River interlinking project envisages to link these two river systems to transfer water from surplus regions to the deficient ones, with the vision to mitigate flood and droughts and to provide more irrigation opportunities.

Pros of river interlinking for water management in India:

  • Hydropower generation: This project envisages the building of many dams and reservoirs. For instance, NRLP can generate about 34000 MW of electricity if the whole project is executed.
  • Round the year water availability: River interlinking will help in dry weather flow augmentation. That is when there is a dry season, surplus water stored in the reservoirs can be released. This will enable a minimum amount of water flow in the rivers.
  • Irrigation benefits: River interlinking project will provide irrigation facilities in water-deficient places. For instance, Indian agriculture is primarily monsoon dependent. This leads to problems in agricultural output when the monsoons behave unexpectedly. This can be solved when irrigation facilities improve.
  • River interlinking project will also help commercially because of the betterment of the inland waterways transport system. For instance, as shown in Map 1, it will help to have intricate network of rivers across India where NRLP will implement river interlinking. Thereby it will increase transportation capacity.
  • Moreover, the rural areas will have an alternate source of income in the form of fish farming, etc. It will also augment the defence and security of the country through the additional waterline defence. 

Major Issues

  • Ecological issues: One of the major concerns is that rivers change their course in 70–100 years and thus once they are linked, future change of course could create huge practical problems for the project.
  • Aqua life: A number of leading environmentalists are of the opinion that the project could be an ecological disaster. There would be a decrease in downstream flows resulting in reduction of fresh water inflows into the seas seriously jeopardizing aquatic life.
  • Deforestation: Creation of canals would need large areas of land resulting in large scale deforestation in certain areas.
  • Areas getting submerged: Possibility of new dams comes with the threat of large otherwise habitable or reserved land getting submerged under water or surface water. Fertile deltas will be under threat, with coastal erosion expected to threaten the land and livelihoods of local economies that support 160 million people.
  • Displacement of people: As large strips of land might have to be converted to canals, a considerable population living in these areas must need to be rehabilitated to new areas.
  • Dirtying of clean water: As the rivers interlink, rivers with dirty water will get connected to rivers with clean water, hence dirtying the clean water.
  • River inter-linking is an expensive business from building the link canals to the monitoring and maintenance infrastructure. Implementation of the project not only needs a huge financial capital but also political support
  • Another important issue is building consensus among states and Land acquisition.
  • A careful scientific assessment of the project and its impact on the environment, is necessary in case of a project of this magnitude especially with regard to Biodiversity


With a bird’s eye view it seems river interlinking has the potential to address the water stress issue of India. However, it is necessary to look at this issue on the basis of necessity and feasibility of river-interlinking. Most suitably it should be seen on case to case basis, with adequate emphasis on easing out federal issues. Besides as a supplementary measure we can incorporate traditional water harvesting and water management techniques which will help India to have a water security.


Launch of River Cities Alliance (RCA)

  • What: A dedicated platform for river cities in India to ideate, discuss and exchange information for sustainable management of urban rivers
  • This first of its kind Alliance in the world symbolizes the successful partnership of the two Ministries i.e., Ministry of Jal Shakti and Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs. 
  • The Alliance will focus on three broad themes- Networking, Capacity Building and Technical Support.

Can you answer the following questions?

  1. Do you think river interlinking is the most suitable way forward for water management in India? Critically examine. 
  2. The idea of interlinking the rivers to fight droughts and floods in various parts of the country might be economically prudent but its ecological fallouts outweigh the other benefits. Critically comment.

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