During the early 1930s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had introduced the ?New Deal? programme in order to combat the all-pervading depression in the economy in the United States. The Deal had included implementation of several water resources projects such as the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Grand Coulee Dam and the Hoover Dam.
These and other public works, improvement in agriculture and banking system had pulled the United States out of this catastrophe in two or three years? time, putting its economy in the upswing, unaffected even by World War II.
Government leaders and several well-known economists may not agree to the stipulation by some people that there are unmistakable signs of a recession in Indian economy, although it may not develop into the type the United States had suffered, because ?the fundamentals of Indian economy are strong?. Nevertheless, it would not harm anybody if India takes up some water resources development plans on the lines of the Grand Coulee and Hoover Dams.
In fact, if one were to go by the findings of the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER), undertaking the Inter-Linking of Rivers (ILR) project, now in limbo, ?it will have a major impact on the rural area in general and the agriculture-dependent households in particular?.
According to NCAER, the ILR project involves huge construction activity, comparable in scale to the Golden Quadrilateral (GQ) project. The construction activity in the ILR would include dams, reservoirs and canals.
In its 11th report tabled in Parliament on October 22, the Standing Committee of Parliament on Water Resources said, inter alia, that ?the Ministry of Water Resources in a post-evidence reply to the query of the Committee regarding impact of ILR project on overall development of rural sector, employment generation in rural areas etc. revealed:
“National Council of Applied Economic Research was approached to study the economic impacts of the ILR programme including Benefits of Interlinking Programme. The revised reply of NCAER has been received on April 7, 2008.?
This report, in contrast to its earlier report, says, among other things: ?ILR programme will have both short and long-term impact on the economy. The short-term impact of the link canal is in the form of increased employment opportunities and the growth of the services sector. Sectors supplying crucial inputs in the construction sector such as cement, clay, iron and steel, will also grow. In the medium to long-term, the major impact of link canals is through increased and assured irrigation. Although the major and direct gainers of the programme will be agriculture and agriculture?dependent households, entire economy will be benefited due to construction activities and increased agricultural production.? .
The Council added: ?The impact of the ILR programme will be realised only when construction is completed, reservoirs filled, and the water reaches the ultimate users for irrigation, drinking, industrial purposes and hydropower generation. Until construction is complete, the impact of ILR programme will be through government investment. This will have an impact on the industries supplying inputs for construction. There will also be an increase in employment and thus on demand for foods and services.
According to NCAER studies on economic impact of ILR programme, the programme will have a major impact on the rural area in general and the agriculture-dependent households in particular. The rural household per capita income with ILR is expected to increase by 7.49 per cent as compared to be baseline growth without ILR scenario. Per capita household income of agriculture dependent households in rural area is expected to go up by 13.2 per cent. For non-agriculture dependent households per capita household income is expected to go up by 4.8 per cent in rural areas and 9.8 per cent in urban areas as compared to the baseline scenario.
These statistical data from a reputed non-government, non-political organisation are sufficient grounds for resumption of the ILR programme, which was mysteriously downgraded on assumption of power by the United Progressive Alliance in May 2004, after the fall of the Atal Behari Vajpayee-led NDA government. Although this programme was launched in August 1980 when Smt. Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister, the UPA government went very slow on implementation of the ILR programme.
The programme, which had got a fillip during the NDA regime because of the severe drought in 2002, was not scrapped by the Manmohan Singh government. Instead, it adopted the ?mantra? that the ?National Common Minimum Programme (NCMP) of the government envisages that the UPA government will make a comprehensive assessment of the feasibility of linking the rivers of the country starting with the southern rivers in a fully consultative manner. It will also explore the feasibility of linking sub-basin rivers in states like Bihar?.
Since this ?mantra? is the mandate of the UPA government, the ILR project has all but permanently shelved. Of the 14 Himalayan and 16 Peninsular links envisaged in the ILR programme, only one link ? the Ken Betwa link in Uttar Pradesh-Madhya Pradesh, is in a position to be described as ?under consideration? because it has been included in the list of about 30 irrigation projects in the country which have been named as ?national projects? which will receive 90 per cent funding from the centre (the states are to contribute the remaining ten per cent).
However, the detailed project report (DPR) for this link is yet to be completed, which means work on it will not commence even in the next few months. By that time, the UPA government will complete its term of five years.
The interest of this government in irrigation projects is best exemplified by the fact that the government had announced, in its first budget of July 8, 2004 that it would undertake ?repair, renovation and restoration or water bodies directly related to agriculture.? A number of such water bodies in various states have been taken up since with results still not made known to the people yet.
During presentation of the annual budget on February 28, 2008, Finance Minister P Chidambaram announced the setting-up of the Water and Irrigation Finance Corporation with an authorised capital of Rs.100 crore. Not much has been heard about this corporation after it was registered before the end of the previous financial year on March 31, 2008.
Meanwhile, does anyone remember that the Supreme Court in an order in October 2002, has fixed December 31, 2016, as the date by which the inter-linking of rivers programme is to be completed?