India is set to divert water from its rivers to deal with a severe drought, a senior minister has told the BBC.
Water Resources Minister Uma Bharati said transferring water, including from major rivers like the Brahmaputra and the Ganges, to drought-prone areas is now her government’s top priority.
At least 330 million people are affected by drought in India.
The drought is taking place as a heat wave extends across much of India, with temperatures in excess of 40C.
The Inter Linking of Rivers (ILR) has 30 links planned for water-transfer, 14 of them fed by Himalayan glaciers in the north of the country and 16 in peninsular India.
Environmentalists have opposed the project, arguing it will invite ecological disaster but the Supreme Court has ordered its implementation.
‘First in India’s history’
“Interlinking of rivers is our prime agenda and we have got the people’s support and I am determined to do it on the fast track,” Ms Bharati said.
“We are going ahead with five links [of the rivers] now and the first one, the Ken-Betwa link [in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh] is going to start any time now.
India’s poisoned river
“And then we will have the Damnaganga-Pinjal interlink which will sort out the Mumbai drinking water facility.”
Ms Bharati said the river-linking project would be the first in Indian history since independence in 1947.
There were also other projects aimed at supplying water for irrigation and drinking in the next few years and the ILR was a long-term scheme, she added.