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Mahanadi-Godavari river link: Why NDA desperate to go ahead with the project when Odisha is yet to decide on it?
Mahanadi and Godavari river interlinking is a mischief for Mahanadi and gaunt for Godavari. On Mahanadi-Godavari River interlinking proposal neither government nor the elected representatives are ready to listen the sorrows of Mahanadi and Godavari.
Both PM Narendra Modi and Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik are not concerned about newt and neural of Mahanadi and Godavari. Both Modi and Naveen should understand Mahanadi's mutter and mutiny and Godavari's gainsay. They have no right to invite Godavari's grave. Whatever the government of India and Andhra Pradesh politicians are propagating it's the garble of Godavari and they are waiting for Godavari's garrote day. Who will feel Godavari's gawp, Odisha, Andhra or India Government?

Interlinking of rivers was not considered by many as a wise way of managing the river waters of the country by many. But the way the Union Ministry of Water Resources is sort of baiting the Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik government to push the idea of Mahanadi Godavari link and the manner in which the state government is responding to such overtures has led to skepticism in the state.

Interlinking of rivers, a pet project of Atal Bihari Vajpayee that was gathering dust for about a decade, is now in the process of being dusted after the NDA government took charge at the Centre. No doubt Modi government, desperately in the lookout for some big interventions to ink its success story, may see interlinking as one. But it seems to be in too much of desperation to pursue it.

Mahanadi Godavari link has been accorded high priority by the centre. The recent revival of the Mahanadi-Godavari link proposal unfolded in Odisha like this. First a few articles, mostly written by the retired engineers eulogizing interlinking of rivers in general and Mahanadi-Godavari link in particular appeared in the local newspapers. These articles spelled out how the Mahanadi Godavari link will help Odisha ward off flood and irrigate lakhs of hectors of land.

Keen followers of the issue took these as stock articles used when there is nothing else to print. But when all of sudden a five-member team led by an additional secretary in the Union Water Resource Ministry, Amarjit Singh, landed up in Bhubaneswar to make a case for the Mahanadi Godavari link one could suspect these articles as part of a media campaign.

The team made a power point presentation on Mahanadi Godavari Link to the Naveen Patnaik and the officials of Water Resources Department on 30th May 2015. The presentation mentioned that the Mahanadi-Godavari link would irrigate 4.43 lakh hectare of land, including 3.52 lakh hectares in southern districts of Odisha, generate about 445 MW electricity and control flood. The project proposes to divert Mahanadi water to Godavari by impounding water at Manibhadra and four more barrages upstream of Manibhadra. The link canal will pass through Nayagarh, Khurda, Ganjam and Gajapati districts and join river Godavari at Dolaiswaram.

Naveen Patnaik had directed his officials to examine feasibility of the proposal and submit a report. Hardly a week passed in between and the Water Resources Ministry made its intentions clear by declaring that it will create a special purpose vehicle (SPV) to expedite the Mahanadi-Godavari Link project.

At the same time it also has given two alternatives to the state to choose from. Such haste and high handedness has irked the government of Odisha as well as the intelligentsia of the state. Principal Secretary of Water Resources Department, Pradeep Kumar Jena has said that the Water Ministry has made only a presentation to the government of Odisha. Neither the government of Odisha has received a formal proposal from the Centre nor has the state government agreed to the link. Rather the state government has sought some clarifications on the proposed link.

In such a situation, Ministry of Water Resources deciding to form a SPV and proposing two alternatives of interlinking to the state of Odisha only exposes the desperation of the NDA government to go ahead with the Mahanadi-Godavari link irrespective of the fact that Odisha is yet to take a call on the issue.

The two alternatives that the Centre has proposed, one is creation of barrages at Manibhadra and Baramul. Apart from these, barrages also will be created at Raul and Bagh rivers upstream of Manibhadra. As per this alternative plan 2,31,093 ha will be irrigated and 849 MW of power will be generated. This proposal will have a submergence of 23,349 ha and canal work of 828 acres will be needed. But whether the displacement due to Manibhadra has been included in it or not needs to be ascertained.

The second alternative suggests that there will be one barrage at Baramul and water will be impounded at five rivers like Bagh, Salki, Raul, Khadga and Udanti rivers. The second alternative will irrigate the same amount of land and will submerge 15,528 acres. 842 kms of canal work will be needed. But this alternative will produce 1039 MW of power.

The haste with which the Water ministry is proposing the alternatives, is certainly worrying some. In the feasibility report prepared for Mahanadi Godavari link in 2003-04 dams were proposed only at Manibhadra and Salia. As per this proposal Manibhadra dam alone will submerge 63,000 ha and would displace more than 79,000 people (as per estimates of 1991 Census). And now there are two new alternatives. They also will submerge 23,349 or 15,128 ha of land (Manibhadra included?). And the displacement figures are not officially available.

How these alternatives will be able to divert more than 12,000 Mm3 of water is also not know. It might be a ploy of the centre to keep Manibhadra off the records till it gets a nod from the Odisha government. Displacing people in Odisha has not been easy in Odisha as is evident from the recent experiences of POSCO project that involved less than a thousand ha of land. Even implementation of 19 on going large irrigation projects in Odisha has not been easy for the state government. In such an environment implementation of the Mahanadi Godavari link seems like a task impossible.

Mahanadi Godavari proposal is being sold to the people of Odisha on a lot of false premises. First of all it is said that Mahanadi is to be linked to Subarnarekhs that in turn will be linked to the Ganga system. Ganga being an international river, there seems to be no possibility of Ganga being linked to Subarnarekha. So for all practical purposes it is the stand alone Mahanadi Godavari link alone, with no assurance of any more water coming from any other river.

Secondly it is touted that through the Manibhadra - Dolaiswaram link canal flood water can be diverted and that will help in controlling flood. But the link canal will be only 73.5 meters wide. How much of the flood waters that is to the tune of 10-14 lakh cusecs can be diverted through this link? The experts in the state are quite skeptical about this proposition.

The proposal of Manibhadra project is nothing new. It was proposed along with Hirakud reservoir as part of a comprehensive plan. But the second dam on river Mahanadi could not be taken up as the political masters did not gather enough courage to displace so many people. Originally Manibhadra was planned to have a full storage level of 86 meters. But the interlinking project has the plans to have the full storage level at 91 meters.

It sounds weird that a project that was planned for irrigation and flood control in the state could not take off in last 60 years will be taken up with increased height even though one of the purposes is to divert water to the neighboring state and the resistance to displacement is growing in intensity and scale.

As per the Feasibility Report 79,000 people will be displaced. But these are estimates made in 2001 that means it has not taken the 2001 census into consideration. So the estimate most probably isbased on the 1991 Census. But this time the population must have increased at least by 20,000. So Manibhadra alone talks of the displacement of more than one lakh.

Those who follow the development of the state are saying, "Getting Manibhadra started will be a real nut to crack for the state government. The state government is struggling with the construction of 19 dams in the state since last two decades. Even the government was forced to shelve Sindhol barrage due to heavy resistance by the local people as well as development activists of the state. In such a situation Manibhadra is certain to be the biggest stumbling block. Only to avoid the displacement in large scale the Union Ministry has proposed the alternatives."

They added, "In alternative one proposes Manibhadra along with a dam at Baramula. So the extent of displacement will be higher. In the alternative two there will be a barrage on Mahanadi at Mahanadi only one barrage is planned at Baramul. What will be real extent of displacement is to be known. And in all probability the displacement will be more than a lakh. And it will not be a easy task to get ahead with the project."

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of merinews.com. In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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