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Last Updated: Friday, 23 May, 2003, 04:35 GMT 05:35 UK
Drive to link Indian rivers
By Abhishek Prabhat
BBC correspondent in Delhi

Fishermen prepare a catch from the near-dried-up Kolans river in Bhopal
The sharing of river water has led to tension between some states
India's ruling party has launched a campaign to gather public support for one of India's most ambitious projects - the linking of rivers across the country.

The project aims to connect nearly 30 rivers in the country and is estimated to cost over $100bn.

It envisages diverting water from surplus river basins to water deficient areas.

Floods and drought have become a recurring problem in India and the project is aimed at improving the situation.

Last year a severe drought hit several Indian states, while floods destroyed people's harvests in many other areas.

The sharing of river waters has also led to tensions among some states, the most outstanding example being Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

These two southern states have been fighting for over a century over the Cauvery river.

Economic benefits

India's Bharatiya Janata Party-led government sees the inter-linking of rivers as a long-term solution to many of these problems.

Indian laundry worker
Water for laundering clothes is a perennial problem

The party now plans to involve its grass-roots activists in the project.

"We plan to disseminate the idea and educate the masses through our party workers," the president of the BJP's youth wing, G Kishan Reddy, told the BBC.

Mr Reddy, who is heading the awareness drive, said workers of the youth wing would take the concept to state capitals from where they would spread into the districts and villages.

The BJP says the river-linking project would boost the annual average income of farmers from the present $40 per acre of land to over $500.

It says once the rivers are linked, India's food production will increase from about 200m tonnes a year to 500m.

River treaties

But neither the party nor the government led by it offers a specific answer to concerns raised by several environmental bodies.

They argue that the project would alter the basic character of many rivers and leave several hundred thousand people displaced.

They are also silent about how India would gather the resources to convert the grand idea into a reality.

The BJP and its leaders in the government have also ignored, for the time being, the international implications of the project.

India has river treaties with several neighbouring countries which prohibit Delhi from unilaterally altering river courses.

For the moment the party is backing the prime minister - who is keen on the project - in the hope that even if water does not reach dry areas, the project would win it votes in key elections this year.

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03 Aug 02  |  South Asia

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