Linking of Rivers: An Indian Perspective, Challenges and Opportunities

32 Pages Posted: 16 Jun 2009  

Prashant R. Dahat

National Law Institute University, Bhopal

Date Written: May 15, 2009


Linking major rivers may save life, property and generate enormous prosperity. In a presentation to President A P J Kalam, Water Resources Minister P R Dasmunsi charted a clear schedule, while highlighting the fact that a technical consensus group would submit their observations on the project, The National Water Development Agency would complete its feasibility report of 18 links out of 30 before December 31, 2005, he added. Resurrected after nearly 30 years by the previous government, the river-linking project is a grand plan to transfer water from surplus basins to deficient ones by building a series of links across the country. But the project, estimated to cost Rs 560,000 crores, has also raised protests from environmental groups. With some states having raised questions too about the project's feasibility, Dasmunsi is planning to meet the chief ministers of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan to try and build a political consensus. The Minister makes another presentation, on the progress and future course of action, before the Prime Minister on October. Interestingly, in a bid to grab some credit for the project, Dasmunsi has been saying that it was an "idea conceived by Indira Gandhi''. There's also an attempt to highlight its mention in the Common Minimum Programme, which says: "The UPA Government will make a comprehensive assessment of the feasibility of linking the rivers of the country starting with the southbound rivers. The assessment will be done in a fully consultative manner."

The idea of the "linking of rivers", dormant for a hile, has acquired new prominence now, particularly in the context of the Cauvery dispute. A recent public interest litigation (PIL) has led to directions from the Supreme Court for an acceleration of the "linking". The propriety of judicial directions on such a subject is debatable, but leaving that aside, this article will examine the idea itself.

The notion of the linking of the rivers in the subcontinent is an old one. In the 19th Century, Sir Arthur Cotton had thought of a plan to link rivers in southern India for inland navigation. The idea was partially implemented but was later abandoned because inland navigation lost ground to the railways. Even the canal that was constructed went into decline.

A phrase that caught the imagination of the people and passed into popular parlance was "Garland Canal". This idea (which was not quite the same as the linking of rivers) was mooted by Capt. Dinshaw J. Dastur, an air pilot. It was merely a fanciful notion that never commanded respect among knowledgeable people. The catchy phrase refuses to die and keeps surfacing from time to time, but does not merit serious discussion here.

The "inter-linking of rivers" is also often referred to as "inter-basin transfers". Essentially, the thinking is that the disparities in the different river basins of India call for water transfers from the "surplus" basins to the "defici" basins. This has exercised the minds of the Indian water-resource planners for a long time.
One such idea was (and continues to be) that of tapping the surplus resources of the mighty Brahmaputra. A significant part of the water resources of India, estimated in terms of the flows near the terminal points of the river systems, lies in the Brahmaputra, which, unfortunately, is in a remote corner of the country, far from the areas where the demand for water is high. There has therefore been a preoccupation with the idea of a transfer of water from that river to places where it is needed.

Keywords: River Linking in India, Linkig of Rivers: An Indian Perspective, Challenges and Opportunities in Linking of Rivers in India

Suggested Citation

Dahat, Prashant R., Linking of Rivers: An Indian Perspective, Challenges and Opportunities (May 15, 2009). Available at SSRN: or

Prashant Ramdas Dahat (Contact Author)

National Law Institute University, Bhopal ( email )

108-A, Boy's Hostel,
Kerwa Dam Road,
Bhopal - 462044. ( M.P.), Madhya Pradesh 462044
09770338751 (Phone)

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