One of the proposed river-linking projects of India involves Assam in a big way. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why the river-linking project involving the river chain Mas-Sankosh-Teesta-Ganga is being seen also as a process for taking away water from the rivers of Assam to some other States in the country. Officially christened as the Inter-Basin Water Transfer Link, the project is being monitored by the Union Ministry of Water Resources. There is every indication that the Centre is aware of the diverse issues involved in the project and is pursuing it in consultation with experts in relevant fields. The Centre is understood to have already intimated the progress of the project works to the State governments concerned. According to information from the State Water Resource Department, there were two altertive River links in Assam. However, the completion of the pre-feasibility report (PFR) has indicated a marked preference for the river chain Mas-Sankosh-Teesta-Ganga over the other option involving Jogighopa-Teesta-Farakka. The Mas-Sankosh-Teesta-Ganga chain will meander through Assam, West Bengal, Bihar and neighbouring Bhutan. The PFR lists the benefits that are likely to accrue from the project to the States concerned. Among the several benefits the principal focus is on boosting irrigation and hydro-power projects in the States concerned. It is estimated that once the M-S-T-G link is completed, Assam will get 2.08 lakh hectares of land irrigated, while West Bengal will get 1.82 lakh hectares of irrigated land. Bihar is likely to be even better off with 2.64 lakh hectares of irrigated land. The other major benefit that is expected is hydro-power. The project is expected to generate 5,287 MW of hydropower that should come as a major boon to the power-starved eastern part of the country.
The tiol Water Development Agency (NWDA) has identified 30 links (16 under the peninsular component and 14 under the Himalayan component) for preparation of feasibility reports (FRs). The PFRs of all the 30 links have been prepared and circulated to the State governments concerned. After survey and investigation, the FRs of 14 links under the peninsular component and FRs of two links and draft FRs of seven links (Indian portion) under the Himalayan component have been completed. This is an indication that the Centre is determined to go ahead with the river-linking project regardless of all opposition to it. There is no doubt whatsoever that apart from the existing opposition to the project from several organizations in Assam, the opposition to the river-linking initiative is likely to get further intensified in the days to come. A sensible approach to the entire issue would be to get all the relevant facts and figures related to the river-linking project as well as expert opinion on how the project is likely to affect the State rather than launching an outright opposition to the project merely because of the fear a major loss of water resources to the State. It is possible that a detailed study of the proposed river-linking project might even indicate that such a project that takes away some of the river waters of Assam could turn out to be a way of avoiding the annual monsoon floods that have created havoc in the State over the years. If so, the State might even be better off if a river-linking project takes away the excess of water that torments us during the rainy season. A proper approach to the proposal has to be based on a deeper study of the volume of water involved and whether a reduction in the excess of water during the rainy season could actually be of benefit to the State. At the same time, there is need to exercise great caution about grandiose plans involving Assam that the Centre puts out from time to time. One cannot afford to overlook the fact that in 71 years of independence, Assam has received precious little from the Centre in terms of initiatives that could have led to real development of the State on a much larger scale. The hiatus between what the Centre is keen to take from Assam and what it is willing to give to the State has kept increasing over the years.