Interlinking of rivers of India

Interlinking of rivers of India
Posted on 21-08-2023

Interlinking Rivers – Historical Overview and Concept

The concept of interlinking rivers was first proposed by Sir Arthur Cotton, Chief Engineer of the Madras Presidency, in 1919. This idea resurfaced in 1960 when KL Rao, the then Minister of State for Energy and Irrigation, suggested connecting the Ganga and Cauvery rivers. Subsequently, in 1982, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi established the National Water Development Agency (NWDA). The project gained momentum over the years, with the Supreme Court directing the government to finalize plans by 2003 and execute them by 2016. A task force was established in 2003 for this purpose. Despite efforts, challenges such as opposition from environmentalists have hindered progress.

The Aim of Interlinking Rivers

The rationale behind interlinking rivers stems from the dual issues of drought and flooding faced by different regions in India. The Indo-Gangetic rivers receive water from both rains and Himalayan glaciers, while the peninsular rivers rely mainly on monsoon rains. Consequently, the former region experiences floods, and the latter faces droughts. Interlinking these rivers is envisioned to redistribute water, alleviating floods and droughts.

Mechanism and Components

The plan involves constructing a network of approximately 3000 storage dams to interconnect 37 rivers, forming a vast water grid. The project encompasses two components: the Himalayan Component and the Peninsular Component.

Himalayan Component:

  • Includes 14 projects, involving storage dams on the Ganga, Brahmaputra, and their tributaries.

  • Proposes linking the Ganga and Yamuna rivers.

  • Aims to mitigate flooding in the Ganga-Brahmaputra system and benefit drought-prone areas like Rajasthan, Haryana, and Gujarat.

  • Encompasses sub-components connecting Ganga-Brahmaputra basins to the Mahanadi basin, and linking Eastern Ganga tributaries to the Sabarmati and Chambal systems.

Peninsular Component:

  • Focuses on interlinking 16 southern Indian rivers.

  • Involves transferring surplus water from Mahanadi and Godavari to Krishna, Cauvery, Pennar, and Vaigai rivers.

  • Sub-components include linking Mahanadi and Godavari basins to Cauvery, Krishna, and Vaigai systems, connecting Ken to Betwa rivers, linking Parbati-Kalisindh rivers to Chambal, connecting west-flowing rivers to Tapi, and interlinking certain west-flowing and east-flowing rivers.

Benefits of Interlinking Rivers

The interlinking projects promise several advantages:

  1. Balancing water distribution to address floods and droughts.

  2. Easing the water crisis in multiple regions.

  3. Facilitating hydropower generation, potentially generating 34000 MW.

  4. Supporting dry season water flow, aiding pollution control, navigation, and ecosystems.

  5. Improving irrigation for agriculture.

  6. Enhancing inland waterways and rural income through activities like fish farming.

  7. Strengthening defense and security through expanded waterlines.

Challenges in Implementation

Despite the projected benefits, challenges hinder progress:

  1. Enormous cost and engineering demands.

  2. Environmental impact on ecosystems, wildlife, and aquatic life.

  3. Societal impact due to displacement and the need for rehabilitation.

  4. Uncertainty about flood control effectiveness based on past experiences.

  5. Inter-state and international disputes over water sharing.

To move forward:

  1. Prioritize local solutions and watershed management.

  2. Consider the National Waterways Project, which uses excess flood water to mitigate inter-state disputes.

  3. Evaluate the necessity and feasibility of interlinking rivers on a case-by-case basis while addressing federal concerns.


Water stands as one of nature's most crucial resources, wielding significant influence over the development of regions. Rivers, abundant sources of freshwater, play a pivotal role. Areas blessed with rivers thrive agriculturally and economically. In a bid to harness this potential, India has undertaken river linking initiatives, seeking to channel river water to regions lacking natural access. This proactive approach curtails flooding in vulnerable zones and fosters equitable water distribution.

The project involves forging an artificial nexus among rivers, establishing reservoirs that redirect water to previously unreachable areas. The scheme, categorized as an interbasin transfer endeavor, constitutes a substantial civil engineering undertaking. Its multifaceted advantages encompass enhanced irrigation, replenished groundwater, flood mitigation, and water supply augmentation to parched regions.

The endeavor consists of three main segments: the interlinking of northern Himalayan rivers, the southern peninsula river network, and intrastate river linkage. The Ministry of Jal Shakti oversees this initiative to address India's water challenges. An array of projects across these segments - 14 for Himalayan rivers, 37 for intrastate links, and 16 for the peninsular component - is managed by the National Water Development Agency.

Historically, the notion of river interlinking in India traces back to the British era, championed by engineer Arthur Cotton. His vision aimed at bolstering trade and addressing water scarcity. The concept evolved through the National Water Grid proposal by dam designer Dr. K.L. Rao. Established in 1982, the National Water Development Agency examined water resources and formulated river interlinking schemes, initiating implementation in 1999.

Benefits of these projects are manifold. Irrigation expands to arid zones, enabling agriculture in previously water-starved regions. Flood-prone areas benefit from efficient water diversion, curbing inundation risks. Moreover, drought-prone regions receive surplus water redirected from flood-endangered areas. However, the drawbacks entail substantial dam and reservoir construction, which can render fertile land unusable and induce food scarcity in construction locales.

In conclusion, India's diverse topography and climatic conditions necessitate innovative solutions. The river interlinking endeavor, driven by the National Water Development Agency, emerges as a strategic response. With its three-pronged approach - Himalayan, peninsular, and intrastate river connections - the project strives to alleviate water shortages and drought in various Indian states.


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