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The Ken-Betwa River Linking Project

Context

The Ken-Betwa Link Project’s (KBLP) Steering Committee recently met for the third time in New Delhi.

Relevance

GS Paper-3: Different Types of Irrigation and Irrigation Systems; Conservation, Environmental Pollution and Degradation, Environmental Impact Assessment; Major Crops – Cropping Patterns in various parts of the country.

Mains Question

What is the Ken-Betwa link? Briefly discuss the concerns about the project. (250 words)


Background of River Interlinking:

  • During a speech in 2002, then-Indian President Abdul Kalam mentioned the river linking project.
  • He proposed it as a solution to India’s water problems, and an application was submitted to the Supreme Court requesting an order on the subject.
  • The application was converted into a writ petition, and in October 2002, the Supreme Court ordered the Central Government to begin work on interconnecting the country’s major rivers.

What is the Ken-Betwa Connection?

  • The Union Cabinet approved the KBLP in December 2021 at a total cost of Rs 44,605 crore.
  • The national and Madhya Pradesh governments will collaborate on this project to connect the Ken and Betwa rivers so that the latter can water the Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh.
  • The linking canal will flow through Chhatarpur, Tikamgarh, and Jhansi districts, and will be fed by the new Daudhan Dam on the Ken, which will be built within the Panna Tiger Reserve.
  • The project is expected to irrigate 6.3 lakh hectares of land each year.

National River Linking Project

  • The National River Linking Project (NRLP), formally known as the National Perspective Plan, envisions the transfer of water from water’surplus’ basins where flooding occurs to water ‘deficit’ basins where drought/scarcity occurs, via inter-basin water transfer projects.
  • The term’surplus’ refers to the extra water available in a river after it has met the needs of humans for irrigation, domestic consumption, and industries, thereby underestimating the river’s need for water.
  • The term ‘deficit’ has also been viewed in terms of humans only, rather than from the river’s perspective, which includes many other factors.
  • The National River Interlinking Project will connect 37 rivers across the country via a network of nearly 3000 storage dams to form a massive South Asian Water Grid.
  • It consists of two parts:
  • Himalayan Rivers Development Component: o 14 links have been identified under this component.
    • The goal of this component is to build reservoirs on the Ganga and Brahmaputra rivers, as well as their tributaries in India and Nepal.
    • The goal is to save monsoon flows for irrigation and hydropower generation, as well as for flood control.
    • The link will divert surplus flows from the Kosi, Gandak, and Ghagra rivers to the west.
    • A link between the Ganga and the Yamuna is also proposed in order to transfer excess water to drought-prone areas of Haryana, Rajasthan, and Gujarat.
  • Peninsular Rivers Development Component, also known as the Southern Water Grid: o It consists of 16 links that aim to connect the rivers of South India.
    • It intends to connect the Mahanadi and Godavari rivers to feed the Krishna, Pennar, Cauvery, and Vaigai rivers.

Benefits of this project:

  • The project will provide enormous benefits to the water-stressed region of Bundelkhand.
  • Provide drinking water to 62 lakh people in the region.
  • This project also includes a hydropower component that will generate 103 MW of electricity.
  • A 27 MW solar power plant is also being considered.

Key Concerns:

  1. Concerns of Hydrological and Ecological Experts: o Hydrological and ecological experts are sceptical, primarily because the government’s plan is based on a “surplus and deficit” model that they claim lacks scientific foundation.
    1. They are also concerned that the project will jeopardise Panna’s water security.
  2. Legal Issues: o The approval of the Ken-Betwa Link Project by the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife has not been demonstrated to be necessary for the improvement and better management of the wildlife therein, as provided in Section 35(6) of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
    1. The project is also said to be awaiting full forest clearance.
    2. The National Green Tribunal is also hearing a challenge to its environmental approval.
  3. Impact on the Panna Tiger Reserve
    1. Because of its deep gorges, Panna is an excellent tiger habitat that will be drowned if the new dam is built.
    2. An illegal approval granted by a national board will nullify all previous good, hard work.
    3. The government is also working on expanding the ‘Panna Tiger Landscape,’ but this is not the concession that many believe it to be.
  4. Inadequate Water in Ken o There may not be enough water in the Ken, a non-perennial river, to meet the Betwa’s projected needs, let alone the needs of the Bundelkhand region.

Way Forward

  • Independent hydrological investigation: The Ken should be subjected to a “independent” hydrological investigation. Older reports by state agencies had produced inconsistent, and thus untrustworthy, projections.
  • Restoration of Chandel-period lakes: It would be more cost-effective and faster if the governments prioritised the restoration of Bunderlkhand’s former Chandel-period lakes and ponds, as well as the replication of successful field-pond schemes.

Conclusion

  • Although it will pave the way for more interlinking of river projects to ensure that water scarcity does not become an impediment to the country’s development, it is necessary to revisit and address the many concerns that the feasibility studies may have overlooked.
  • Choosing high-value crops that can increase the net value of crop production benefits faster than consumption water use increases.
  • The project has the potential to exacerbate water conflicts between Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.
  • Let us hope that the upcoming Union budget for 2023-2024 does not include a textbook loss-loss project.

February 2023
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