Tuesday, December 21, 2004

India's great river-linking folly

A three-day international conference on the subject of the Indian River Linking Project (IRLP) just ended in Dhaka. The Indian activist Medha Patkar, of the Narmada Bachao Andolon, was the leading attraction & she didn’t disappoint. The same cannot be said for some of the politicians on show. It was obvious that they didn’t really think it through and will by now have forgotten about the issue. Medha summarised it by saying that it wasn’t good enough to leave it in the hands of the governments negotiating by themselves. It was a question of the state acting against the interest of the people. Therefore, people from both Bangladesh and India had to unite against this project. A cross-border movement……… she also said that Bangladesh’s people had to take the lead since we would suffer the most as we are downstream.
And none of us want to be used by forces who want to go India-bashing. People within India are opposed to the project.
The project, involving creating 30 links diverting massive rivers such as the Ganges and Brahmaputra to southern India is an engineering nightmare and will devastate Bangladesh’s agriculture and therefore wider economy. It will lead to either conflict or mass migration or both around 2020.
It will not cost the ‘estimated’ $120 billion but at least double that amount. A lot of money to be made by MNCs, consultants and contractors. That’s the real game. One thing not mentioned by anyone is this: a major part of the scheme is for Nepal to set up storage areas so that water can be diverted first towards the west in India. The Maoists guerrillas control 2/3rds of the country. If they win, will they want any part of this? Unlikely since Nepal gains nothing from this project. Even if they don’t win, the country will be unstable for the next five to ten years. How can one build in such an uncertain political environment?

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