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Friday, Sep 17, 2004

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Linking rivers

B. S. Raghavan

WITH admirable perseverance, the Founder-President of the Makkal Shakthi Eiyakkam (People's Power Movement), Dr M. S. Udayamurthy has convened an All-India Convention on "Re-engineering India by linking her rivers" at Chennai on September 19.

Long before the political and ruling classes woke up to the importance of the issue, Dr Udayamurthy undertook a padayatra to generate public awareness and organised a number of conferences and led deputations to the powers-that-be at New Delhi, to make it a part of the national agenda. The groundwork done by his band of highly dedicated and knowledgeable experts, led by Mr S. Parthasarathi, formerly of the State Bank of India, went a long way to lend weight and substance to the concept.

The participation in the Convention by political and professional heavyweights such as the Tamil Nadu Congress Chief, Mr G. K. Vasan, the Chairman, India Chapter of the World Agricultural Forum and Founder, Shetgari Sanghatana, Dr Sharad Joshi, and the former Advisor, The Asian Development Bank, Dr S. Kalyanaraman, is bound to add value to the conclusions of the meeting.

As in all such proposals of great complexity, there is a flip side as well. There is as yet no agreement among technical experts themselves as to what is, technology-wise, engineering-wise and cost-wise, the most feasible approach to the whole project. Each group is convinced of the merits of its own particular solution. For instance, there is a school of thought that goes by the scheme favoured by the National Water Development Agency. There is another working under Prof A. C. Kamaraj which believes in its own configuration of links and the likely cost-benefits.

It would seem that the Task Force had before it altogether six such technical versions. Adding to the difficulty of choice is that no computer-simulated exercises had been undertaken or completed on any of them. With no unanimity on the basics among experts, discussions in various forums have tended to be mostly rhetorical. This also makes it hard to forge a political consensus. We can only wish better luck for Dr Udayamurthy's efforts.

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