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Editorial Articles

Issue No 39, 25 December-31 December 2021

Rivers-Lifelines For Economic Growth

B S Purkayastha

India is a country blessed with a number or rivers, twelve of which are classified as major rivers whose combined catchment area is 252.8 million hectare. Of the major rivers, the Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghana system is the biggest with catchment area of about 110 million hectare which is more than 43% of the combined catchment area of all the major rivers in the country. The other major rivers with catchment area more than 10 million hectare are Indus (32.1 million hectare), Godavari (31.3 million hectare), Krishna (25.9 million hectare) and Mahanadi (14.2 million hectare). The catchment area of medium rivers is about 25 million hectare and Subernarekha with 1.9 million hectare. Rivers are major national assets as they provide irrigation, potable water, cheap transportation, electricity, as well as provide livelihoods for a large chunk of the population.

However, with industrialization, increase in population and aggressive cropping patterns, our rivers have been subject to much abuse. Whether it is the case of the river Yamuna or the river Mithi turning into virtual drains carrying untreated sewage or industrial pollutants, or increasing apprehension regarding large hydroelectric projects and dams in Uttarakhand or Kerala, or unseasonal floods in Chennai or Patna, it is a question about taking care of our rivers the same way as they take care of us. It is in this light that measures such as the Inter-Linking of Rivers programme, National Mission for Clean Ganga, National River Conservation Plan, National Water Mission, Namami Gange project, development of national waterways along with recent legislations such as the Inland Vessels Act or the Dam Safety Bill need to be seen.


This ambitious project envisages transferring water from water-surplus basins to water-deficit basins. Under the National Perspective Plan (NPP), the National Water Development Agency (NWDA) has identified 30 links to connect 16 rivers under the Peninsular Component and 14 under the Himalayan Component to form a gigantic South Asian Water Grid. While the implementation of the ILR projects depends on the consensus among the concerned states, implementing the NPP would ensure 35 million hectares of irrigated land (25 million ha from surface waters and 10 million ha by increased use of ground waters), raising the ultimate irrigation potential from 140 million ha to 175 million ha and generation of 34000 MW of hydro power, apart from the incidental benefits of flood control, navigation, water supply, fisheries, salinity and pollution control.

This ambitious project envisages transferring water from water-surplus basins to water-deficit basins. Under the National Perspective Plan (NPP), the National Water Development Agency (NWDA) has identified 30 links to connect 16 rivers under the Peninsular Component and 14 under the Himalayan Component to form a gigantic South Asian Water Grid. While the implementation of the ILR projects depends on the consensus among the concerned states, implementing the NPP would ensure 35 million hectares of irrigated land (25 million ha from surface waters and 10 million ha by increased use of ground waters), raising the ultimate irrigation potential from 140 million ha to 175 million ha and generation of 34000 MW of hydro power, apart from the incidental benefits of flood control, navigation, water supply, fisheries, salinity and pollution control.

The Himalayan Component envisages construction of storage reservoirs on the main Ganga and Brahmaputra rivers and their principal tributaries in India. Links will transfer surplus flows of the Kosi, Gandak and Ghagra to the west. In addition, the Brahmaputra-Ganga Link will augment dry-weather flow of the Ganga. Surplus flows that will become available on account of inter-linking of the Ganga and the Yamuna are proposed to be transferred to the drought prone areas of Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat.

The proposed 14 links in the Himalayan Component are:

1.      Kosi-Mechi, 2. Kosi-Ghagra, 3. Gandak-Ganga, 4. Ghagra-Yamuna, 5. SardaYamuna, 6. Yamuna-Rajasthan, 7. Rajasthan-Sabarmati, 8. Chunar-Sone Barrage, 9. Sone Dam-South Tributaries of Ganga, 10. Brahmaputra-Ganga (MSTG), 11. Brahmaputra-Ganga (JTF) (ALT), 12. Farakka-Sunderbans, 13. GangaDamodar-Subernarekha, 14. Subernarekha-Mahanadi

The central component of peninsular rivers development is the Southern Water Grid which is envisaged to link Mahanadi, Godavari, Krishna, Pennar, and Cauvery rivers. The Peninsular Component comprises diversion of surplus flows of Mahanadi and Godavari to Krishna, Pennar, Cauvery and Vaigai, diversion of westflowing rivers of Kerala and Karnataka to the east, inter-linking small rivers flowing along the west coast, north of Mumbai and south of Tapi and inter-linking the southern tributaries of Yamuna.

The proposed 16 links in Peninsular Component are:

1. Mahanadi(Manibhadra)-Godavari, 2. Godavari (Inchampalli)-Krishna (Nagarjunsagar), 3. Godavari (Inchampalli Low Dam)-Krishna (Nagarjunsagar Tail Pond), 4. Godavari (Polavaram)-Krishna (Vijaywada), 5. Krishna (Almatti)–Pennar 6. Krishna (Srisailam) – Pennar, 7. Krishna (Nagarjunsagar) – Pennar (Somasila), 8. Pennar (Somasila)-Cauvery (Grand Anicut), 9. Cauvery (Kattalai) – Vaigai – Gundar, 10. Ken-Betwa, 11. Parbati-Kalisindh-Chambal, 12. Par-Tapi-Narmada, 13. Damanganga-Pinjal, 14. Bedti-Varda, 15. Netravati-Hemavati, 16. PambaAchankovil-Vaippar

Under the NPP, it is proposed to link Ganga to Cauvery river through a series of links viz., Ganga (Farakka)-Damodar-Subernarekha, Subernarekha-Mahanadi, Mahanadi-Godavari-Krishna-Pennar-Cauvery. The proposal envisages diversion of surplus waters to be delivered by the preceding Manas-Sankosh-TeestaGanga(MSTG) link upstream of Farakka barrage through Ganga-DamodarSubernarekha link and further south. NWDA has completed the draft feasibility reports of Ganga(Farakka)-Damodar-Subernarekha, Subernarekha-Mahanadi links and circulated among party States in July 2020. The feasibility reports of the links viz., Mahanadi-Godavari, Godavari-Krishna, Krishna-Pennar, Pennar-PalarCauvery link projects have also been completed and circulated to party states.


First off the block is the Ken-Betwa inter-link with the Union Cabinet earlier this month approving the project with a total cost of Rs 44,605 crore. Central support of Rs 39,317 crore will be provided for the project, covering grant of Rs 36,290 crore and loan of Rs 3,027 crore. The project has a deadline of eight years. A Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) called Ken-Betwa Link Project Authority (KBLPA) will be set up to implement the project.

Under the Ken-Betwa link project, water will be transferred from Ken to Betwa through the construction of Daudhan Dam and a canal linking the two rivers. Under Phase-I, Daudhan Dam complex and its appurtenances like Low Level Tunnel, High Level Tunnel, Ken-Betwa link canal and power houses — will be completed. In Phase-II, three components — Lower Orr Dam, Bina Complex project and Kotha Barrage — will be constructed.

The project will provide an annual irrigation of 10.62 lakh ha, drinking water supply to a population of about 62 lakh and also generate 103 MW of hydropower and 27 MW solar power. The project will be of immense benefit to the water-starved Bundelkhand region, spread across the states of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.


The flow in a river is a dynamic parameter and depends on many sub-parameters such as rainfall, its distribution, duration and intensity in the catchment, health of catchment area, vegetation and withdrawals/utilization of water. The annual average flow data maintained by Central Water Commission (CWC) for last 20 years for major/important rivers in the country does not indicate any significant decline in water availability. However, as per CWC, the per capita annual water availability in the country has progressively reduced due to increase in population, urbanization, improved lifestyle of people, etc.

Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) in association with the State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs)/Pollution Control Committees (PCCs) is assessing the ambient water quality of both surface and ground water under the National Water Monitoring Programme (NWMP) at 4,294 locations in the country including 2,026 locations on rivers. As per CPCB report of September 2018, 351 polluted river stretches have been identified on 323 rivers based on monitoring results in terms of Bio-chemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) levels, an indicator of organic pollution. Altogether, 28 States/ 3 UTs are implementing action plans prepared by State River Rejuvenation Committees for rejuvenation of these 351 polluted stretches.


The Ministry of Jal Shakti has been supplementing efforts of the States/UTs by providing financial and technical assistance for abatement of pollution in identified stretches of rivers in the country through the Central Sector Scheme of Namami Gange for rivers in Ganga basin and Centrally Sponsored Scheme of National River Conservation Plan (NRCP) for other rivers. NRCP has so far covered polluted stretches on 34 rivers in 77 towns spread over 16 states, with sanctioned cost of projects as Rs 5961.75 crore, and sewage treatment capacity of 2677.03 MLD (million litres per day) created.

Table 1: Details of funds (in Rs crore) allocated and utilized/released for cleaning/rejuvenation of rivers:

Financial Year

National River  Conservative Plan

Namami Gange Programme


Budget Allocated

Fund Released

Budget Released

Fund Released


















Under Namami Gange programme for conservation and pollution abatement of the River Ganga and its tributaries, a total of 353 projects have been sanctioned at a cost of Rs 30,458 crore, out of which 178 projects have been completed and made operational. A total of 157 sewerage infrastructure projects from among these have been taken up with a sanctioned cost of Rs 24,249 crore for creation and rehabilitation of 4952 MLD of STP capacity and laying of around 5212 KM sewerage network, out of which, 74 projects have been completed resulting in creation and rehabilitation of 1092 MLD of STP capacity and laying of 3752 KM sewerage network. CPCB has identified priority drains responsible for carrying sewage, industrial wastes and agriculture run-off into river Ganga. These drains are being monitored on half yearly-basis. Out of a total of 151 priority drains, flows from 145 drains will be covered through their interception and diversion or sewer network for treatment through 113 sewerage projects taken on main stem of Ganga under Namami Gange Programme for creation of 2171 MLD capacity. The sewage treatment capacity in main stem towns has increased from 1305 MLD (2014) to 2372 MLD (November 2021). Altogether, 42 projects have been taken up in towns located along rivers Yamuna, Kali, Ramganga, Saryu, Gomti, Damodar, Banka, Rispana, Kharkai, Kosi and Burhi Gandak. Development of ghats and crematoria works in select cities has been taken up, of which 173 ghats and 45 crematoria have been completed. During the last three years, 39 projects under Namami Gange programme have been completed. Further, 572 MLD of installed sewage treatment capacity was added in the towns along river Ganga main stem.

The government in 2018 notified the minimum environmental flows for river Ganga to be maintained at various locations on the river. The order applies to the Upper Ganga River Basin starting from originating glaciers and through respective confluences of its head tributaries finally meeting at Devprayag up to Haridwar and the main stem of river Ganga up to Unnao district of Uttar Pradesh. As a result of multi sectoral interventions, the median values of these water quality parameters viz., Dissolved Oxygen (DO), Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) and Faecal Coliform (FC) have improved at 40 locations, 41 locations and 21 locations respectively in 2021 (January-May) as compared to 2014.

Similarly, 1270 MLD of treatment capacity has been created under the YAP Phase – I & II projects on river Yamuna in Haryana, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh for its conservation. Besides, the Central Government/ NMCG (National Mission for Clean Ganga) has sanctioned 24 projects in Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh under Namami Gange Programme to abate pollution load to river Yamuna which will create 1310.6 MLD Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) capacity and rehabilitate 528.18 MLD STP capacity. Two projects have been completed in Sonipat and Panipat creating STP capacity of total 70 MLD and rehabilitation of 75 MLD STPs.


The Dam Safety Bill 2021 provides a statutory framework for surveillance, inspection, operation and maintenance of specified dams over rivers for prevention of dam failure related disasters. As per the provision of the Bill, a National Committee on Dam Safety (NCDS) will help evolve uniform dam safety policies, protocols, and procedures. The Bill also provides for the establishment of a National Dam Safety Authority (NDSA) as a regulatory body for ensuring the nationwide implementation of dam safety policies and standards. At the State level, the Bill prescribes for the constitution of State Committees on Dam Safety (SCDS) and the establishment of the State Dam Safety Organizations (SDSO).

As per the National Register of Large Dams (2019) compiled and maintained by CWC, there are 227 large dams in India which are older than 100 years. Under the World Bank assisted Dam Rehabilitation and Improvement Project (DRIP), Phase-I, which was implemented during April 2012 to March 2021, new technologies and innovations were utilized for rehabilitation and repairs at 223 dams located in Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Tamil Nadu and Uttarakhand. The original financial outlay was Rs 3466 crore, with final completion cost of Rs 2567 crore. Apart from structural measures to improve hydrologic safety, hydro-mechanical measures, seepage reduction, structural stability etc., non structural measures such as dam break analyses, emergency action plans, O&M manuals, were put in place for the selected dams. In addition, DHARMA (Dam Health and Rehabilitation Monitoring), a system to monitor the health of dams, has been developed. A seismic hazard analysis information system (SHAISYS) has also been developed.

Ministry of Jal Shakti has again initiated DRIP Phase II and Phase III by inviting proposals from the States. This new scheme has 19 States, and three Central Agencies on board. The budget outlay is Rs 10,211 crore (Phase II: Rs 5107 crore; Phase III: Rs 5104 crore) with rehabilitation provision of 736 dams. The Phase II of DRIP is being co-financed by World Bank and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), whereas funding for Phase III will be triggered at later stage. The Scheme is of 10 years duration, proposed to be implemented in two phases, each of six years duration with two years overlap. Each phase has external assistance of US$500 million.

The Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways has declared 111 waterways (5 existing and the 106 new) as National Waterways (NWs) so as to promote inland water transport in the country. Among this, the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) has found 25 waterways fit for cargo or passenger movements. Of the 25 NWs, developmental work is already under-way in 13 of them. Meanwhile, the IWAI has undertaken comprehensive development of NW-2 (Brahmaputra River) and NW-16 (Barak River) and Indo Bangladesh protocol route at the cost of Rs 46l crore and Rs 145 crore, respectively, to establish critical connectivity along with infrastructure development in the north eastern states.

Cargo movement on NWs in 2020-21 stood at 83.61 million tones, a 13% increase compared to 2019-20. Approximately 54.03 million tonnes of cargo were transported on NWs during the period April, 2021 to October, 2021. The Inland Vessels Bill 2021, passed by Parliament in August this year, is expected to further facilitate harmonised and effective regulation of the inland vessels and their seamless and safe navigation across the states. The rules and regulations uniformly applicable under the new law, instead of separate rules in different states, would ensure seamless and cost-effective trade with inland vessels using the waterways.


Sources: Lok Sabha/ Rajya Sabha questions; Press Information Bureau; National Water Development Agency; River Basin Information System of India.

(The writer is a senior journalist and can be reached at ideainksreply @gmail.com)

Views expressed are personal