The weak monsoons of the last two years have left India in the midst of a sever drought resulting in crop failure, a rising number of farmer suicides and mass migrations from the most severely affected regions of Central India. An estimated 330 million people have been affected by this calamity and although states have employed emergency methods to provide as much relief as possible, these measures were just a palliative to a much grander problem.
In an attempt to rectify this problem now and in the future, the Indian government is planning to attempt one of its most ambitious engineering ventures in history. The project calls for rerouting the natural courses of some of India’s major rivers such as the Ganga and the Brahmaputra. The water resource minister Uma Bharti said that work could begin in a few days, but a spokesperson from her department told The Guardian that the Government is still waiting for clearance from the environment ministry.
The idea was first conceived by the British in the 1850s and has been revived several times since, but has only won approval by the Modi Government who claim they have ‘done all the work for it’ . The project will cost an estimated 207 thousand crores and may take 20-30 years to complete.
Environmentalists across the country have opposed the project, stating that it would be the cause of an ecological disaster. It involves creating canals across the length and breadth of the country and reorganising the entire ecosystem. Dr Latha Anantha, from the River Research Centre, said “The government is trying to redraw the entire geography of the country. What will happen to communities, the wildlife, the farmers who live downstream of the rivers? They need to look at a river not just as a source of water, but as an entire ecosystem.”
There has also been little thought given to the future of areas from where water is being diverted. As Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asia Network for Dams, Rivers and People pointed out “The project is based on the idea of diverting water from where it is surplus to dry areas but there has been no scientific study yet on which places have more water and which ones less.” This oversight may also lead to political conflicts in the future.
In spite of the critics, the Supreme Court has ruled in favour of this project and it will continue as planned. Whether this project is going to be the saving grace for India or just the beginning of an entirely new set of problems remains to be seen.