As the water from the Godavari River flowed into the Krishna at the Prakasam Barrage in Vijayawada on Wednesday, it marked a historic landmark for Indian irrigation. The two major southern rivers are now interconnected through a canal starting from the Tadipudi lift irrigation project on the Godavari. When the under-construction Polavaram dam is commissioned, water will be carried from there for discharging into the Prakasam Barrage. The joining of these two rivers is aimed broadly at harnessing part of the floodwaters of the Godavari, which now flow wastefully into the Bay of Bengal. About 10 per cent of this water will be used to irrigate paddy fields in the water-scarce Krishna delta; this might help make perpetually water-starved Rayalaseema drought-proof.
The credit for implementing this project goes to successive chief ministers of undivided Andhra Pradesh, who steadfastly supported it despite resistance from activists. Neighbouring states, notably Odisha and Chhattisgarh, also objected to this project, fearing that some of their areas might be submerged. The present Andhra Pradesh chief minister, N Chandrababu Naidu, expedited the work to ensure Godavari water reached the Krishna delta even prior to the completion of the whole project. Eventually, the Godavari-Krishna link is expected to create a total irrigation potential of about 280,000 hectares besides supplying water for domestic and industrial uses in the Krishna and West Godavari districts. This aside, the availability of the Godavari water for the Krishna delta will spare Krishna water for storage in the Srisailam dam, which normally remains almost empty, to mitigate the impact of frequent droughts in the Rayalaseema regions.
The Godavari-Krishna link is actually part of the much larger and much more ambitious Mahanadi-Godavari-Krishna-Pennar-Cauvery-Vaigai river interlinking project. This extensive river network is one of the components of a grandiose long-term plan to put in place a nationwide water grid by creating 30 major river links and 37 relatively minor intrastate river links. The work on the Ken-Betwa river link projects in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh has already begun. Construction of the second phase of the Ken-Betwa link, as well as the Damanganga-Pinjal and Par-Tapi-Narmada links in Gujarat and Maharashtra, may also begin soon as their detailed project reports are already ready. The countrywide grid could increase the country's ultimate irrigation potential, reckoned now at around 139 million hectares, to over 175 million hectares. Its backers claim it would drought-proof the entire country. But it is far from certain that the Krishna-Godavari link's relatively smooth and speedy implementation can be replicated everywhere - or even that it should be.
The Godavari-Krishna link project, like other river water development projects, is far from an unmixed blessing. Among the most formidable problems it is likely to pose are the submergence of vast tracts of land, including agricultural areas, rural habitations, archaeological sites and coal deposits, and displacement of thousands of people. A sizable segment of the population likely to be dislocated is of tribals, who are relatively disenfranchised. If they are not generously rehabilitated, then law and order challenges are inevitable; this area is not far from the zones affected by Naxal violence. Special attention must be paid to ensuring their livelihood security.