One option which emerged as I talked with local people in Rajasthan is the interlinking of rivers project proposed by the Vajpayee government. Many environmental concerns have been raised around the project. But that was also the case with the Narmada Dam. The people I talked to were of the opinion that the Narmada Dam has made a big positive difference in Gujarat.
Lives will be affected in either case whether a dam is built or not. At this time, people in Rajasthan wait for miracles from the sky in the form of rain which rarely comes. So, it is year after year of drought. Without external intervention, I can see little hope for the much of the desert state and its people.
I came across this August 2003 note on the interlinking of rivers from the Governments Press Information Bureau:
Interlinking of rivers in India is expected to greatly reduce the regional imbalance in the availability of water in different river basins. Surplus water which flows waste to the sea would be fruitfully utilized. It is assessed that the inter-linking of rivers will provide additional irrigation benefits to 35 million hectares (Mha) -25 Mha from surface water and an additional 10 Mha from increased ground water recharge- which will be over and above the ultimate irrigation potential of 140 Mha envisaged from the conventional irrigation projects.
Construction of storage dams as proposed will considerably reduce the severity of floods and the resultant damages. The flood peaks are estimated to reduce by about 20 to 30 per cent in the Ganga and Brahmaputra basins.
The benefits of drought mitigation from inter-basin water transfers will accrue to an area of about 25 lakh hectares in West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
Hydro power could also be generated on a massive scale by the storage dams proposed under the interlinking of rivers. Hydro power development has not kept pace with the potential and requirement in our country. Against a potential of 84,000 MW, only about 22,000 MW capacity for hydro power generation has been developed so far. For an efficient working of electrical energy generating system, the mix of thermal to hydro should be about 60:40. In our country it is about 75:25. The storage dams proposed under interlinking of rivers will greatly improve this situation. The total hydro power potential of the interlinking systems is estimated to be 34,000 MW.
I am not an expert on this subject. What I see is a problem where the non-availability of water stagnates an entire region. India needs disruptive innovations and big thinking to get its regions on the development path. I see a government that seems more interested in outlays rather than outcomes. I also see a country whose coffers are filling up (at last count, India had $145 billion in forex reserves). What we lack is imagination to think big and make things happen.
What can explain the fact that after all these years the government is still not able to provide the fundamental building blocks (clean water, continuous power, good roads, quality education) to a significant number of its citizens? Indians dont want dole in the form of employment guarantee schemes or anti-poverty programmes. What they want are opportunities to get control of their own life to make things better. People are naturally resilient and entrepreneurial they will build their own bright futures. What they need are the basic building blocks. Is that too much to ask from the government?
Tomorrow: Bright Spot
TECH TALK Rajasthan Ruminations+T