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Cabinet clears Ken-Betwa river interlinking project

Context:

The Union Cabinet approved the funding and implementation of the Ken-Betwa river interlinking project at a cost of ₹44,605 crore at the 2020-21 price level. The Centre would fund ₹39,317 crore for the project, with ₹36,290 crore as a grant and ₹3,027 crore as a loan.

Relevance:

GS-I: Geography (Drainage System in India, Projects to improve Irrigation), GS-II: Polity and Governance (Inter-State Relations)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Interlinking of Rivers
  2. What is the Ken-Betwa Link Project?
  3. Which regions will benefit from the Ken-Betwa Link Project?
  4. Benefits of the Interlinking of River Projects
  5. Challenges regarding Interlinking of rivers
  6. Arguments Against ILP Projects
  7. About National Interlinking of Rivers Authority (NIRA)

Interlinking of Rivers

  • In 1858, Arthur Cotton (British general and irrigation Engineer) came up with even more ambitious proposals such as connecting all major rivers of India, and interlinking of canals and rivers. He suggested drought-relief measures for Odisha.
  • The National River Linking Project (NRLP) formally known as the National Perspective Plan, envisages the transfer of water from water ‘surplus’ basins where there is flooding, to water ‘deficit’ basins where there is drought/scarcity, through inter-basin water transfer projects.
  • The interlinking of river project is a Civil Engineering project, which aims to connect Indian rivers through reservoirs and canals.
  • The farmers will not have to depend on the monsoon for cultivation and also the excess or lack of water can be overcome during flood or drought.
  • Since the 1980s, the interlinking project has been managed by India’s National Water Development Agency (NWDA) under the Ministry of Water Resources.

It has been split into three parts as follows:

  1. A northern Himalayan river interlink component.
  2. A southern peninsular component.
  3. An Intra-State river linking component.

As of now, six ILR projects have been under examination of the authorities:

  1. Ken-Betwa,
  2. Damanganga- Pinjal,
  3. Par-Tapi-Narmada,
  4. Manas-Sankosh-Teesta-Ganga,
  5. Mahanadi-Godavari and
  6. Godavari-Cauvery (Grand Anicut)
  7. With regard to the peninsular rivers, the Centre has chosen to focus on the Godavari-Cauvery link.

What is the Ken-Betwa Link Project?

  • The Ken-Betwa Link Project is the first project under the National Perspective Plan for interlinking of rivers.
  • It envisages transferring water from the Ken river to the Betwa river, both tributaries of the Yamuna.
  • The Ken-Betwa Link Canal will be 221 km long, including a 2-km long tunnel.

A Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) for the project

  • According to the statement, a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) called Ken-Betwa Link Project Authority (KBLPA) will be set up to implement the project.
  • In fact, the Centre has set in motion the process of creation of National Interlinking of Rivers Authority (NIRA), an independent autonomous body for planning, investigation, financing and implementation of the interlinking of river (ILR) projects in the country.
  • The NIRA will have powers to set up SPV for individual link projects.

Which regions will benefit from the Ken-Betwa Link Project?

  • The project lies in Bundelkhand, a drought-prone region, which spreads across 13 districts of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.
  • According to the Jal Shakti Ministry, the project will be of immense benefit to the water-starved region, especially the districts of Panna, Tikamgarh, Chhatarpur, Sagar, Damoh, Datia, Vidisha, Shivpuri and Raisen of Madhya Pradesh, and Banda, Mahoba, Jhansi and Lalitpur of Uttar Pradesh.
  • “It will pave the way for more interlinking of river projects to ensure that scarcity of water does not become an inhibitor for development in the country,” the Ministry said in a statement.

Benefits of the Interlinking of River Projects

India receives most of its rain during monsoon season from June to September

Most of it falls in northern and eastern part of India. The amount of rainfall in southern and western part are comparatively low, and hence, these places which will have shortage of water.

  • Therefore, Interlinking of rivers will help these areas to have water throughout the year.
  • It will reduce the dependence of farmers on monsoon rains.
  • Revenues for the States will increase with increasing production of Crops.
  • The economic impact of the failure of a single monsoon is very substantial, hence a reduction in the dependency on monsoons rains will reduce the debilitating economic impact.
  • It will ease the water shortages in Western and Southern India.
  • It will help mitigating the impacts of recurrent floods in Eastern India.
  • Water from the basins that are affected by floods almost every year (Ganga, Brahmaputra) can be diverted to other areas where there is scarcity of water; this can be achieved by linking the rivers.
  • Thus – There are Advantages in Both – Controlling Floods and Reducing Scarcity of Water.
  • The river interlinking project claims to generate total power of 34,000 MW (34 GW) and India needs clean energy to fuel its development processes. Hence the ILR Projects can help with India’s Energy needs.
  • Socio-economic life of people will improve as the water needs get fulfilled.
  • Inter-state water disputes can also be handled after implementation of ILR Projects.
  • Transportation through navigation will Increase Income Sources and increase connectivity.
  • Fishing in rural areas can also be improved as a result of ILR Projects.

Challenges regarding Interlinking of rivers

  1. Environmental Costs: The project threatens to obstruct the natural ecology of rivers. The proposed dams could threaten the forests of the Himalayas and impact the functioning of the monsoon system.
  2. Climate Change: In interlinking systems, it is assumed that the donor basin has surplus water that can be made available to the recipient basin. The whole concept goes for a toss if this basic assumption goes haywire for any system due to climate change.
  3. Economic Costs: It is estimated that river interlinking will be a huge fiscal burden on the Government.
  4. Socio-Economic Impact: It is estimated that the network of canals extending to about 15000 km would displace about 5.5 million people, mostly tribals and farmers.

Arguments Against ILP Projects

  • Concerned scholars questioned the merits of inter-link projects citing lack of holistic assessment of social-ecological impacts like water-logging, salinisation and the resulting desertification.
  • The concerns about sediment management, especially on the Himalayan system loom large. When the idea is to transfer water from the ‘surplus’ Himalayan river systems to ‘deficit’ basins of the southern part of India, the differential sediment regime defining the flow regimes need to be plugged into the equation. This will entail changes in ecosystem structures in both parts.
  • Damming India’s east-coast rivers to take their water westwards will curtail downstream flooding and thereby, the supply of sediment—a natural nutrient—destroying fragile coastal ecosystems and causing coastal and delta erosion
  • The spirit of federalism is ignored in the river interlinking project. There is dissent on the part of the state governments (Kerala).

About National Interlinking of Rivers Authority (NIRA)

  • The National Interlinking of Rivers Authority (NIRA) will function as an umbrella body for all river linking projects and to be headed by a Government of India Secretary-rank officer.
  • It will replace the existing National Water Development Agency (NWDA).
  • It will coordinate with neighbouring countries and concerned states and departments and will also have powers on issues related to environment, wildlife and forest clearances under river linking projects and their legal aspects.
  • NIRA will have the power to raise funds and act as a repository of borrowed funds or money received on deposit or loan given on interest.
  • It will also have the power to set up a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) for individual link projects.

-Source: The Hindu

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