New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday said it would not favour interlinking of rivers if it causes huge a financial burden on the Centre and asked for a report on its costs.

"My concern is only on what is the financial liability of the project. We want to make it clear that we would not pass order on it if it causes huge financial burden," a three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice S H Kapadia, said.

The bench, also comprising Justices K S Radhakrishnan and Swatanter Kumar, asked the amicus curie and senior advocate Ranjit Kumar to file a report on the financial viability of the project.

"What would be the cost of networking? When rivers are networked, are lands also to be acquired?" the bench said while asking the amicus to submit his report within a month.

The court posted the matter for further hearing in January next year.

The river interlinking project was the brainchild of the NDA government and in October 2002, the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had formed a task force to get the project going against the backdrop of the acute drought that year.

The task force had submitted a report recommending division of the project into two -- the Peninsular component and the Himalayan component.

The Peninsular component -- involving the rivers in southern India -- envisaged developing a 'Southern Water Grid' with 16 linkages. This component included diversion of the surplus waters of the Mahanadi and Godavari to the Pennar, Krishna, Vaigai and Cauvery.

The task force had also mooted the diversion of the west-flowing rivers of Kerala and Karnataka to the east, the interlinking of small rivers that flow along the west coast, south of Tapi and north of Mumbai and interlinking of the southern tributaries of the river Yamuna.

The Himalayan component envisaged building storage reservoirs on the Ganga and the Brahmaputra and their main tributaries both in India and Nepal in order to conserve the waters during the monsoon for irrigation and generation of hydro-power, besides checking floods.

The task force appointed by the Vajpayee government had identified 14 links including Kosi-Ghagra, Kosi-Mech, Ghagra-Yamuna, Gandak-Ganga, Yamuna-Rajasthan, Rajasthan-Sabarmati, Sarda-Yamuna, Farakka-Sunderbans, Brahmaputra-Ganga, Subernarekha-Mahanadi, and Ganga-Damodar-Subernarekha.

The task force had also concluded that the linking of the rivers in the country would raise the irrigation potential to 160 million hectares for all types of crops by 2050, compared to a maximum of about 140 million hectares that could be generated through conventional sources of irrigation.

The fate of the ambitious Rs 5,00,000 crore project proposing linkages between major rivers by the year 2016 has remained a virtual non-starter and the detailed project report (DPR) is in cold storage.

(Agencies)