- Briefly state the objective of KBP.
- Mention the issues plaguing the project.
- Measures to move ahead with the project.
A series of moves by the governments have provided a push to the interlinking of rivers. The latest move being the revised estimate for the Ken-Betwa project for FY 2022, and the budgetary estimates for FY 2023, followed by the announcement of the formation of an authority to implement the KBP.
The Ken-Betwa link project aims to transfer the surplus water from ken river in Madhya Pradesh to Betwa in Uttar Pradesh, to irrigate the drought-prone Bundelkhand region. It is the 1st project of the National Perspective Plan for Interlinking of rivers.
Persisting issues with the KBP: The KBP has not got the forest clearance yet. The stage I forest clearance report prevents implementation of the project in its current form. The wildlife clearance has been questioned by a comprehensive report of the Central Empowered Committee of the Supreme Court, which is yet to be considered by the apex court. Along with these, opposition by local communities is also gaining strength.
The project is perceived to have adverse impacts of a scale that will go beyond the Bundelkhand region. Similarly, the push for river-interlinking is devoid of sound scientific basis, acceptance by donor state, social or environmental optimality or desirability. Pushing for ILR projects can be counterproductive in the context of changing climate & limited economic resources. Also no state seems to be ready to share water with other states. The hydrology figures of the National Water Development Agency are routinely questioned by the states that the project covers. It will peril the critical Tiger habitat of the Panna Tiger Reserve.
What must be done before moving ahead with the project ?:
- A thorough hydrological assessment of the river basin declared as surplus. The assessment should be in public domain reviewed by an independent agency. No such exercise has been done for the KBP; contrarily, evidence shows that there is no surplus in the Ken basin and any such claim has no scientific support. The project will destroy a major hydrological asset of the Ken basin – the rich natural forest.
- Comprehensive assessment of all available options in the concerned basins including rainwater harvesting, groundwater recharge, watershed development, pollution control, optimal use of existing water infrastructure, cropping pattern , and most importantly, assessment of even small sub-basins.
- Adequate steps should be taken to preserve the groundwater, since such projects do not help in sustaining the water lifeline.
- Bring consensus among the states regarding water sharing. E.g., Gujarat & Maharashtra had signed a MoU way back in 2010, but still there is no meaningful consensus in sight.
As evidence is strong against its desirability, optimality and even viability of ILR proposals, cautious steps must be taken to move ahead with the project, keeping in mind the above potential measures.