This is a previous project site under CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE). For more information and current updates, visit the WLE website.

Home > Basin > Indo-Ganges > Analyzing India’s river linking project (PN48)

Full Project Title: Strategic analysis of India’s river linking project (PN48)


Coping with annual floods and droughts as well as meeting the huge demand for water to enhance and diversify food production has been a major challenge for policy makers in India.  One mooted yet controversial solution was the National River Linking Project (NRLP) to transfer water from the potentially water surplus rivers to water scarce western and peninsular river basins. The NRLP will build 30 river links and some 3,000 storages to connect 37 Himalayan and peninsular rivers to form a gigantic South Asian water grid.

Controversy over the NRLP ranges from dubious project design, negative environmental impacts such as change in the land-oceans and freshwater-seawater ecosystems, increase in seismic hazards, transfer of river pollution, and loss of forests and biodiversity, huge social and financial cost of about US$120 billion, and available less costly demand management options.

A three-year project that began in 2005, the PN48 project aimed to provide the public and the policy planners with a balanced analysis of the social benefits and costs of the NRLP and assess the most plausible scenarios and issues of water futures given the present trends of key drivers of water demand.

Research Highlights

Research highlights

  • Phase I of the project analyzed scenarios and issues of India’s water futures where many river basins will have severe water stress conditions under business as usual water- supply and use patterns and suffer severe groundwater over-exploitation for irrigation.
  • Options available to meet the water challenge include recharging groundwater to increase the groundwater stocks; harvesting rainwater for providing the life-saving supplemental irrigation; promoting water saving technologies for increasing water use efficiency; increasing research and extension for enhancing agriculture.
  • Phase II of project analyzed if the NRLP can be effective for meeting India’s water futures and its social costs and benefits: studies of the proposed links show inadequate detailed planning and lack of assessment of available water surplus in river basins.
  • Phase III analyzed some alternative options: Improving water productivity, improving rain-fed agriculture, water demand management, carefully crafted plan of virtual water trade between states and groundwater recharge and water harvesting all have significant potential.
Project Outcomes

Project outcomes

  • Policy makers have more emphasis on groundwater irrigation, recharge and increasing water-use efficiency, electricity management in groundwater irrigation as well as on environmental flows in river basins.
  • Greater appreciation of water scarcities and importance of eco-system services in river basins.
Publications and Outputs

To view all outputs from project PN48 visit our document repository.

Selected publications and outputs

Peer-reviewed articles

  1. Amarasinghe, U. A., P. McCornick, and Shah, T. 2009. Projections of Irrigation Water Demand in India: What do Recent Trends Suggest? Intl. J. River Basin Management Vol. 7, No. 2 (2009), pp. 157–166.
  2. Gamage, N. and Smakhtin, V. 2008. Do river deltas in east India retreat? A case of the Krishna Delta. Geomorphology. (GEOMOR-02734; pp 8, Forthcoming).
  3. Amarasinghe, U, Shah, T. and McCornick, P. 2008. Seeking Calm Water: Exploring Policy Options for India’s Water Future. Natural Resource Forum, 32(4): 305-315.
  4. Shah, T., Bhatt, S., Shah, R.K. and Talati, J. 2008. Groundwater Governance through Electricity Supply Management: Assessing an Innovative Intervention in Gujarat, western India. Agricultural Water Management 95(11): 1233-1242.
  5. Bhaduri, A. and E. B. Barbier. 2008. International water transfer and sharing: the case of the Ganges River, Environment and Development Economics. 29-51 Vol 13 Issue 1.
  6. Bhaduri, A. and E. Barbier. 2008. Political Altruism of Water Sharing, B.E. Journals in Economic Analysis & Policy. Vol 8, Issue 1.
  7. Verma, S., Kampman, D.A., van Der Sarg., P. and Hoekstra, A. Y. 2008. Going Against the Flow. A Critical Analysis of Virtual Water Trade in the Context of India’s National River Linking Program. Value of Water Research Report Series 31. Delft, Netherland: UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education.


  1. India’s water future: Scenarios and issues. Strategic Analysis of National River Linking Project of India. Series 1. Eds. Upali. A. Amarasinghe, Tushaar Shah and R.P.S. Malik, R.P.S.
  2. Water Sector Perspective Plan for India: Potential Contributions from Demand Management in Irrigation. Strategic Analysis of National River Linking Project of India. Series 3. Saleth, R.M. (Ed) 2009.


  1. Proceedings of the Workshop on Analyses of Hydrological, Social and Ecological Issues of the NRLP. Strategic analyses of the National River Linking Project (NRLP) of India, series 2. Eds. Upali A. Amarasinghe and Bharat R. Sharma.
Final Report
Project Partners

Project partners


Project Lead

Project lead


For more information on Phase 1 outputs please contact Udana Ariyawansa.