December 15, 2021 - 11:25 am

Cabinet Clears Ken-Betwa River Linking Project 

  Union cabinet chaired by the PM approved the Ken-Betwa river interlinking project, apparently intended to address water scarcity of the Bundelkhand region across UP and MP. In its current form, it entails the construction of a dam and a channel between the Ken and Betwa river. The project has a total outlay of ₹44605 crore. However, environmental experts and activists have called the government’s move a "political decision"  designed to grab votes in upcoming elections, and that the government continues to overlook numerous deleterious hydrological and environmental effects the interlink will have.

    The Ken-Betwa Link Project (KBLP) is the first project under the National Perspective Plan for interlinking of rivers, which was prepared in 1980. It is one of 16 projects under the "peninsular component''; another 14 links are proposed under the "Himalayan rivers development plan". This project involves transfer of water from the Ken to the Betwa river both tributaries of the Yamuna through the construction of Daudhan Dam and a canal linking the two rivers, the Lower Orr Project, Kotha Barrage - and Bina Complex Multipurpose Project. The KBLP will be 221 km long including a 2-km long tunnel. The project will provide an annual irrigation of 10.62 lak ha, drinking water supply to a population of about 62 lakhs and also generate 103 MW of hydro power and 27 MW solar power. The project is proposed to be implemented in 8 years with state-of-the-art technology.

    Interlinking of rivers to bring water from surplus areas to drought-prone regions is a plan that has nothing has been explored for long. Noting that "challenge of the water crisis is increasingly equally with India's development", the government has made "water governance a priority in its policies and decisions", counting projects like the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana, 'Har khet Ko Pani' campaign, the Namami gange mission, Jal Jeevan mission among major schemes for improving water security.

    Several obstacles have dogged the project. For one, the project will partly submerge the Panna Tiger Reserve in MP and affect the habitat of vultures and jackals. After years of protests, It was finally cleared by the apex wildlife regulator, the National Board for Wildlife, in 2016. Then UP and MP could not agree on how water would be shared, particularly in the non-monsoonal months. They reached an agreement in March. The original project was conceived in two distinct phases but now they are learnt to be combined.

    The project comprehensively provides for environment management and safeguards. The project is expected to boost socio-economic prosperity in the backward Bundelkhand region on account of increase agricultural activities and employment generation. It would also help in arresting distress migration from this region. This project will pave the way for more interlinking of rivers projects in India.