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Jun 24, 2024, 10:40am EDT
South Asia
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Semafor Signals

Fresh concerns over India’s revived river-linking project

Insights from Hakai Magazine, New Scientist, The Diplomat, and Dialogue Earth

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The News

India is set to launch a vast and long-delayed engineering project that will connect several rivers into a single grid spanning from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea.

The goal is to irrigate farmland, boost hydroelectric power, and ward off drought. But researchers have voiced concerns about the ecological impact of the plans and the efficacy of the science behind it.

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The government has obtained clearances for the first link in the grid, with a contract for its construction likely awarded soon, the head of India’s water agency told Hakai Magazine, a Canada-based outlet.

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SIGNALS

Semafor Signals: Global insights on today's biggest stories.

The science may not add up

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Sources:  
Hakai Magazine, New Scientist

India hopes the project will balance out disparate water supplies, but diverting large amounts of water risks worsening water stress in dry regions, the lead author of a study on the initiative’s potential impact told Hakai: Rivers are already interconnected, so changes “in one [part of the system] can lead to changes in another,” he argued. Plus, any immediate benefits could come at the cost of displacing an estimated half a million people, a data scientist added. Making flooding a thing of the past also ignores the value of flooding, without which saltwater will gradually intrude inland and lead to desiccation and desertification, a geologist told New Scientist in 2016.

The project could trigger water conflict

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Source:  
The Diplomat

Key so-called ‘donor’ states in India — regions where water is deemed to be in ‘surplus,’ a concept hotly disputed by scientists — have refused to get on board with the plan, and conflicts could easily emerge in the future should they run out of water, a columnist warned in The Diplomat in 2016. Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Nepal, which would be directly impacted by the project, are also “watching with apprehension,” and may fear the consequences of Indian unilateralism on their own ecosystems, she added.

Fears over lack of transparency

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Source:  
Dialogue Earth

Independent environmental experts consulted as part of the Indian Supreme Court’s judgment on the project have raised concerns over the use of “secret” hydrological data to categorize basins as being in ‘surplus’ or ‘deficit,’ a columnist wrote in Dialogue Earth. One member of the Ministry of Water Resources’ expert committee on river interlinking from 2009 to 2011 told the publication he was refused access to the data, which the director-general disputed.

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