New Delhi, Feb. 27: From Ganga to Godavari, the days of mighty rivers flowing in majestic isolation may be over, their centuries of moody tantrums tamed.
The Supreme Court today threw its weight behind a decade-old project which, pursuing a two-century-old dream, proposes to link rivers to solve the countrys water problems but has been opposed by some states, environmentalists and social activists.
Under the plan, some 30 links are to connect the countrys rivers, taking water from surplus areas to deficit areas and ending the cycle of droughts and floods that often leads to litigation between states over the sharing of river waters.
A three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia, said the scheme was in the national interest and directed that a high-powered committee be set up to ensure its time-bound implementation.
We would recommend, with all the judicial authority at our command, that these projects are in the national interest, as is the unanimous view of all experts, most state governments and, particularly, the central government, the court said.
The plan has two components, Himalayan and peninsular, relating respectively to rivers in northern and southern India.
The idea of linking rivers had been mooted in 1834 and revived a century later but nothing happened till 2002 when the then Atal Bihari Vajpayee government worked out the scheme but ran into opposition.
The project was initially expected to begin in 2007 and end by 2016, at an estimated cost of Rs 56 lakh crore. But all that has been accomplished are detailed project reports of certain links.
The idea began as a scheme to link the Ganga and the Cauvery, conceived in 1834 by Sir Arthur Cotton, the builder of the Godavari and Krishna dams. In 1930, the Dewan of Travancore, Sir C.P. Ramaswamy Aiyar, suggested a similar plan.
Thereafter, various political leaders supported the cause but nothing happened. In 1994, the apex court took suo motu notice of reports about Yamuna pollution because of lack of water. In 2002, a speech by the then President, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, advocating river-linking was presented before the court. In September that year, the court treated the matter as a public interest litigation.
During the hearing, the Centre, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Madhya Pradesh said they had no objections while Karnataka, Bihar, Punjab, Assam, Kerala and Sikkim raised certain reservations. The other states did not respond to court notices. Today, the apex court noted that the delay had raised cost estimates and asked the Centre to immediately start work on the plan.
We not only express a pious hope of speedy implementation but also do hereby issue a mandamus to the Central and the state governments concerned to comply with the directions contained in this judgment effectively and expeditiously and without default, the bench of Justices Kapadia, Swatanter Kumar and A.K. Patnaik said.
This is a matter of national benefit and progress. We see no reason why any state should lag behind in contributing its bit to bring the inter-linking river programme to a success, thus saving the people living in drought-prone zones from hunger and people living in flood-prone areas.
The high-powered committee will include the Union water resources minister, his departments secretary, the environment and forests secretary, the Central Water Commission chairman and National Water Development Authority member-secretary.
It will also include four nominated experts; state representatives; social activists and the amicus curiae (friend of the court) in the case, lawyer Ranjit Kumar.