Dr. S. Kalyanaraman talks on
"Interlinking India's Rivers "
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Develop Empower & Synergize India (DESI) and Indian Association at the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMAB) jointly organized a talk by Dr. S. Kalyanaraman on April 30th 2004 at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. Dr. Kalyanaraman is a former senior executive of the Asian Development Bank and an advisor to the river interlinking task force. The talk was titled `National Water Grid and Food Security of India'. The event started with Deepa Rajagopal giving a presentation on DESI elaborating on its mission and activities. DESI is a student group formed to study, discuss and contribute towards various facets of India like culture, society, development, security and portrayals of India in the west. It attempts to serve as a forum to encourage developmental efforts, promote exchange of information and social entertainment.
The Indian Association at UMAB is an umbrella association that facilitates interaction amongst the graduate students of Indian heritage.
The talk was attended by a diverse audience of about 35 people and was followed by an open interactive discussion. The speaker talked about how various geological phenomena, over the past several million years, have put India in a geographically advantageous zone and how the technological advances can be used to reap the benefits of this situation for the betterment of the sub- continental community at large. Dr. Kalyanaraman firmly believes that water, an essential natural resource to all the living beings, is an invaluable national asset and must not be commercialized. The talk concentrated mainly on the river interlinking project, though the speaker stressed on the fact that the interlinking project has to be seen in the broader picture of national water grid management. The urgency of the implementation of the project was brought to the front by pointing out that in some places of India, water costs more than milk! People in some areas have to walk for several kilometers merely to fetch drinking water whereas in other places floods wreak havocs.
A task force on interlinking of rivers was set up in December 2002 by the Ministry of Water Resources in response to the directive given by the supreme court of India to the central government to expedite the process of interlinking the rivers. The benefits of the river interlinking project are manifold. These include increase in food grain production and power generation, increase in forest cover, and providing waterways for fuel-efficient transportation. The nation at present spends about Rs. 150 billion ($3.5 billion) per annum on drought relief and another Rs.300 billion ($7 billion) per annum on flood relief. According to Dr. Kalyanaraman, avoiding these recurring expenses alone will justify the investment in the project. The cost-benefit analysis of the project was also projected. According to him, a contribution of Rs. 1000,000 ($23,500) per village per annum for the next ten years will be enough to meet the expenses incurred by this project: a sum that is definitely worth investing considering the end benefits in increasing the food grain production, increasing the power generation, mitigating floods and droughts and reducing the regional imbalance in the availability of water.
While talking about the regional significance of this massive project, Dr. Kalyanaraman also gave various insights into the strategic issues related to India, the U.S., and the Chinese annexation of Tibet.
Various ways in which students from different disciplines can contribute towards the project were also explored. These include combining the NASA 3-D Satellite topography data with the GIS data to develop the local distribution channels to minimize the dislocation of people and to maximize the command area under irrigation, simulating the hydrological flows and so on. The task force is collaborating with various competent agencies like NEERI, NCAER etc. to study the environmental, ecological, socio-economic and other related aspects of the project.
Topics discussed at the
end of the talk ranged from the enormous employment potential of the project
to the handling of the ecological and technological challenges. To a question
raised about safeguarding the environmental impact, Dr. Kalyanaraman pointed
out instances where the task force was asked to revise its plan in order
to make the project compliant with the environmental regulations and the
steps taken to maintain the Manas tiger reserve. The apprehension of some
of the members of the audience about the interests of the local community
being sidelined were alleviated by noting the various tasks undertaken
to spread the awareness among the people and to actively involve them
in the decision-making process. He encouraged NGOs to work closely with
the task force to define local challenges and to formulate feasible and
widely acceptable solutions for the same. Dr.
Kalyanaraman in this discussion emphasized on the need to spread more
awareness among the public in their local vernacular and to garner grass-roots
support for this ambitious project that aims to get irrigation water to
more than half a million villages of India and to counter the menace of
drinking water scarcity in the urban areas.
Develop Empower and Synergize India, College Park, MD 20742, USA