India looks to Nepal to revive Yamuna river
Toufiq Rashid, Hindustan Times
India is seeking a lifeline for the parched Yamuna river — all the way from Nepal.
As part of its first trans-country river-linking project, the government is approaching Nepal to bring surplus water from the Sharda river, also known as the Mahakali, on the border with Nepal to the Yamuna near Delhi.
The project is part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambitious plan of interlinking 31 rivers and divert surplus water to arid areas.
“The proposal has been cleared by a committee of secretaries and a request has been sent to the MEA (ministry of external affairs) to initiate a dialogue with Nepal,” secretary of water resources UP Singh said.
The committee of secretaries, according to officials who requested anonymity, met to discuss the terms of negotiations with Nepal on the 540MW Pancheshwar multi-purpose hydro-electric project. The project, conceived in 1981, made progress under the Modi government when Nepal was ruled by the Nepali Congress. Concerns have surrounded the project under a Communist alliance that came to power in Kathmandu last month.
According to the officials cited above, while all the required clearances for the Pancheswar dam on the Indian side are in place, India is waiting for the newly-elected Nepalese government to settle down before bringing the proposal to the table again.
The proposed Sharda-Yamuna interlinking project is aimed at bringing surplus water from Sharda to Yamuna via Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh. The project is designed to be a lifeline for the Yamuna to ensure uninterrupted flow of water in Delhi. Water from the link is likely to also benefit Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan.
The project was first discussed by Modi with then Nepalese Prime Minister Sushil Koirala during his first visit to the neighbouring country as Prime Minister in August 2014.
India discussed the Pancheshwar dam project with Nepal twice last year — in August and September — and will take it up soon with the new government. “This will be the first time Yamuna-Sharda link will be discussed with the Nepalese government,” a senior official said.
In a question tabled in Parliament on March 15, the government said the proposed Yamuna-Rajasthan link and Rajasthan-Sabarmati link also depends on the Sharda-Yamuna link.
A final report on the proposed Sharda-Yamuna interlinking project was prepared by the National Water Development Agency way back in 2003. On the basis of the balance water available at the tail-end of the link, detailed project reports for subsequent connecting links with Rajasthan and Sabarmati were also prepared.
According to officials familiar with the development, the Nepal government under Koirala had agreed to cooperate on the Sharda-Yamuna project. “The discussion in 2014 was very preliminary. It will be difficult to comment till we know what the government of India is proposing. It will require extensive discussions from both sides,” said Rajan Bhattarai, a close foreign policy aide to Nepal’s new Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli and and a member of the India-Nepal eminent persons group.
Both the Uttrakhand and Uttar Pradesh governments have given their consent for the project. “Uttar Pradesh was on board all along but since most of the submergence would happen in Uttrakhand, a consensus has been built in the state as well,’’ said Singh.
Experts say the cleanliness of the Yamuna as well as the development of the river banks will depend on the flow of water into the river.
The 31 proposed Inter-River Links (IRLs) have two components — a peninsular component involving 16 rivers in southern India and the Himalayan component with 15 river linkages (Sharda-Yamuna will be a part of this). The IRLs, according to the government, have the potential for irrigating an additional 35 million hectares of land and generate 34,000MW of hydropower. The river links will reinforce domestic and industrial water supply besides help in flood management in many states.
Ecologists have their reservations about the projects owing to potential adverse effects on the environment.
Pancheswar, for instance, is said to be in a highly fragile seismic zone. “The (Sharda-Yamuna) link depends on the Pancheswar Dam — which is the world’s tallest dam — being proposed in an earthquake prone area. If there is damage in the dam due to an earthquake it will devastate millions of people,” said Himanshu Thakkar, coordinator of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People.
The Pancheshwar dam is being built in the Mahakali basin on the Indo-Nepalese border. The link is proposed to start from the dam and the waters of the river will flow into the Yamuna via a canal.
Experts are also concerned that the construction of the dam can lead to soil erosion , floods and landslides. “Besides Sharda is a main tributary for the Ganga and instead of recharging theYamuna, we will be destroying another river (Ganga),” Thakkar added.
Around 30,000 people will be displaced by the construction of the Pancheshwar dam, which will submerge areas in Pithoragarh, Champawat and Almora districts in Uttarakhand. Thakkar says the Pancheswar dam will not be economically viable as the cost of the electricity it will generate will be higher than the price at which it is likely to be sold to Nepal.
In 1980, the then Ministry of Irrigation and the Central Water Commission formulated the National Perspective Plan (NPP) for Water Resources Development envisaging inter-basin water transfers.
India’s first river linking project is the Ken-Betwa , which is likely to irrigate 800,000 hectares of land in Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. A memorandum of understanding is likely to be signed between the two states after differences on distribution of water are sorted out. In spite of a detailed project report being finalised in 2006, the linking of the river Ken in Madhya Pradesh and and Betwa in Uttar Pradesh is yet to take off.
This report was first published on Hindustan Times on 22 March 2018.
Published on 23 March 2018