Wednesday, Jun 25, 2003
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By K.P.M. Basheer
He told The Hindu the experience so far had shown that water was a key issue of contention between States. The decades-old stand-off between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu over the Cauvery waters was a classic case in point. He feared that several such confrontations would be the order of the day if the proposed linking took place. The federal structure of the nation would be at stake. He also warned that the linking would sour India's ties with Bangladesh, Nepal and China because it might affect their water availability.
Mr. Mani was in Kochi to attend a public discussion on the river-linking project. The first such discussion to be held in Kerala, it was organised by the IRN and the Gandhi Peace Foundation. Mr. Mani also attended a workshop on river protection, organised by the Save Idukki Campaign, an affiliate of the IRN, at Munnar last week. River activists from Orissa, Jharkhand, Bihar and UP had attended the workshop at Munnar.
Mr. Mani said the Government and proponents of the project spoke only of the potential benefits and were silent on the huge potential losses. The gigantic project, estimated to cost upwards of Rs. six lakh crores, would cause uprooting of millions of people from their villages. It would cause incalculable damage to the environment because of the interference in the natural course of so many rivers and damage to forests, he said.
The project was by far the largest project India had ever seen. It was 12 times bigger than all the large and medium dams built in the past 55 years. By diverting the rivers off their natural courses, the ground water in the areas close to the rivers would be depleted. The damage to the environment and human habitats due to the huge earth work could not be estimated. Millions of people would lose their current access to water. Rivers, being a natural resource, was the collective resource of the communities living around them, and hence the Government had no right to manipulate with these resources, he contended.
He claimed that the Government had not explored so many alternatives to the inter-linking of rivers. For instance, by changing the current pattern of water use a substantial amount of water could be saved and by going in for organic farming the demand for irrigation water could be cut.
He said the linking would mainly serve the interests of the city-dwellers and multinational corporations. "It will provide drinking water primarily to the cities and not to the villages as claimed by the proponents of the river-linking project.'' he said.
Mr. Mani also said that the linking would come in handy for multinational corporations who were eying the huge prospective drinking water market in South Asia. The linking would make the MNCs' task much easier and help them exploit the water sources. He noted that the European Commission had estimated that the water market in South Asia was worth 6,000 billion euros.
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