India to start work on $118b river link plan

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Government greenlights scheme after recent devastating floods

DAUDHAN, INDIA: After years of foot-dragging, India will begin work in around a month on a US$87 billion (S$118 billion) scheme to connect the country's rivers, government sources have said, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi bets on the project to end deadly floods and droughts.

The plan entails linking nearly 60 rivers, which the government hopes will cut farmer dependence on monsoon rains by bringing hectares of cultivatable land under irrigation.

In recent weeks, parts of India and neighbouring Bangladesh and Nepal have been hit by the worst floods in years.

Mr Modi has personally pushed through clearances for the first phase of the project - which would also generate electricity - the sources said.

That will involve construction of a dam on the Ken River, and a 221km-long canal connecting it to the shallow Betwa.

Government officials said diverting water from bounteous rivers such as the Ganges, Godavari and Mahanadi to sparse waterways by building dams and canals is the only solution.

But some experts believe that India would be better off investing in water conservation and better farm practices.

Environmental activists and wildlife enthusiasts have also warned of ecological damage.

The proposed 77m-high, 2km-long dam on the 425km-long Ken will submerge 9,000 ha of mostly forest land. A big portion of it is a forest reserve home to about 35 tigers and nearly 500 vultures.

The government plans to clear out 6.5 per cent of the reserve to build the dam, relocating nearly 2,000 families from 10 remote villages.

Around six clearances, including on environmental protection, have been obtained for the scheme to link the Ken and Betwa, according to sources and documents seen by Reuters.

Mr Modi's Cabinet is likely to give its final go-ahead for the project within a couple of weeks, sources said.

The government is finishing up paperwork on projects in western Indiasuch as the Par-Tapi-Narmada river link, and the Daman Ganga-Pinjal river link. - REUTERS