An irrational legacy of Abdul Kalam

Into my new political avatar I got into discussion with a colleague about the river linking idea which was so vociferously supported by the ex-President Abdul Kalam. While discussing the need for having positions on various issues my colleague brought out the need for inter-linking rivers as supported by the ex-President. While I had also got the initial euphoria on Kalam becoming the President and was moved my his patriotic and well intentioned thoughts for the country, I had become increasingly begun to see Kalam as being a close minded senile man, a number of whose ideas were not well researched and indeed much damaging for the country.

I think Kalam made a fit case for the country to be very careful in choosing its Presidents and more importantly to not become blind worshipers of people.

On the river inter-linking issue it was not the first time I had felt my blood boil when I heard people discuss their appreciation for the ‘wonderful’ idea of a ‘great President’. The simplistic arguments of my colleague went as follows:

1) River Linking will eradicated famine as water from surplus rivers will flow into dry areas.

2) Russia had successfully done the same and see the benefits it has derived.

What I had to discuss was as below. These will also be the basis for my involvement in the government should my political involvement ever give me a chance to direct policy in India:

1) It is primarily water management that this country needs to start discussing rather than specific solutions like river-linking. Kalam was a defense scientist, not somebody who was involved with water or understood the issue. A frightfully large majority of people have this fallacy in their thinking, that they ascribe qualities to an accomplished person, which he/she may not have. While a defense scientist who has contributed so much to the country would undoubtedly be intelligent he would by no means be aware of the requirements of each issue. And I think becoming a President went to the head of Kalam or he was intelligently ‘managed’ by vested interests who stood to gain from the project, making Kalam a rubber stamp spokes person for the project.

2) In Bombay, while the city gets a comfortable supply of water, it is not difficult to find areas within a 200 km radius, which face tremendous water stress. All this while a lot of people in Bombay can afford to flush 10 litres of potable water every time they use the toilet. In such a scenario would it not be better to work on a policy which completely enables water recycling of grey water to be used for flushing? The resultant savings could be diverted to hamlets and villages in dire need. Where does one need water linking or heavy engineering for this? Most probably there is not enough money to be made. The Government needs to work more on enabling policies and less on being an agent for ‘some’ businessmen in finding projects or worse still become a businessperson itself.

3) As regards river-linking versus water management my point of contention is that you need to look into the cost benefit ratio of each solution. At what cost will river linking be achieved (keeping cost over runs and delays in mind) and how many cusecs of water will it deliver? As against that at what cost is water management achieved and how much water does it deliver (a large component in terms of savings arising out of efficient water use).

4) The costs for river linking are outrageously high. Does the country have the funds to get into such a costly project? Will we borrow money from donor agencies to execute the project? Which means that we will necessarily be indebting future generations who will then be repaying the loan. I read the following on the Sardar Sarovar Project – Reckless borrowing, unholy redemption.

5) Has anybody even bothered to look into the water quality in rivers in the country? Most have been converted to open sewers with untreated sewage and effluents being released unchecked into them. In such a scenario is it river-linking we are talking of or sewer-linking? Should not there be a fundamental focus on drastic improvement of the water quality in rivers across the country?

6) The country since millenia has developed wonderful water management techniques which aim to best capture and utilise water where it falls. Why then are we so enamoured by heavy engineering solutions from Russia and the rest of the world. Where does that excess pride in India and its glorious culture disappear at such times? Time to move beyond cricket and naach-gana.

7) This country and the people who run it are only interested in solutions which cost a lot of money. Solutions need to have multi-zero budgets. Solutions which cost less but possibly deliver better results (cost-benefit ratio) are not appreciated and much less find their way in policy. There are a large number of people in the country who discuss corruption and the need to eliminate then and they need to understand that many of these heavy engineering solutions are the fountain head of all corruption. Money siphoned from such projects is what finds its way to Swiss Banks.

If you agree with what has been expressed above then it is important that you make known your views to the government.

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