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Centre scraps task force on river interlinking

By Gargi Parsai

NEW DELHI, DEC. 29. The Centre today scrapped the Task Force on Interlinking of Rivers, constituted by the previous National Democratic Alliance Government, and announced the setting up of a Special Cell in the Ministry of Water Resources. The high-profile task force, constituted in December 2002 with former Shiv Sena Minister Suresh Prabhu as the head, had an advisory role in the river interlinking programme.

Speaking to The Hindu here, the Water Resources Minister, Priyaranjan Dasmunsi, said that the task force had outlived its utility. "It had completed almost all its mandated tasks, except building a political consensus with all States — which is a hard job. Now that it has been decided to set up a Special Cell in the Ministry, the task force requirement is not valid at this stage."

According to the Minister, building bilateral political consensus on the two prioritised links — Ken-Betwa and Parbati-Kalisindh-Chambal — or with the peninsular links could be done at the Ministry level.

As reported in The Hindu, the Special Cell would be headed by the Member-Secretary of the task force, Neena Garg. "The Special Cell has been created to look after the residual routine works of the task force and to take necessary follow up actions on the Inter-linking of Rivers programme," official sources said.

The Special Cell would be supported by two senior technical officers of the National Water Development Agency. It is expected to coordinate with the newly constituted Committee of Experts on environment and socio-economic issues, headed by the Secretary, Water Resources, on the preparation of the detailed project reports .

The task force was mandated to bring about consensus with States, provide guidance on norms of appraisal of individual link proposals and modalities for project funding and cost recovery. It had submitted two Action Plans but the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government has not taken any decision on its recommendations.

In pursuance of the provisions of the National Common Minimum Programme, the UPA Government has decided to focus on the peninsular river component. "First we will try for consensus with the States of the two prioritised links. After that, there will be efforts for building agreement between the peninsular States. Secretary/technical-level talks for sorting out differences with the concerned States — Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh — would be held by January 2005. After that we will go for political consensus building," Mr. Dasmunsi said.

The interlinking of rivers was a "concept" involving feasibility, political consensus, environment and rehabilitation issues and detailed project reports of various links. "On no account shall the UPA Government compromise on the environment and rehabilitation of the people who might be displaced," he asserted.

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