Ken, Betwa linking ready for implementation, says jal shakti minister. Environmentalists call it a poll gimmick

    EnvironmentForestsKen, Betwa linking ready for implementation, says jal shakti...
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    Ken, Betwa linking ready for implementation, says jal shakti minister. Environmentalists call it a poll gimmick

    The river linking projects are based on the idea of transferring water from water-surplus basins to water-deficit basins. But it is riddled with environmental concerns, say environmentalists.

    The rivers inter-linking project to link the Ken and Betwa rivers is ready for implementation, the minister of state for Jal Shakti, Bishweswar Tudu, in a written reply in Lok Sabha on Thursday.

    The project was approved by the government of India in December 2021 by the union cabinet which also approved the expenditure for the project at an estimated cost of Rs. 44605 crores at year 2020-21 price level. The project will receive a central support of Rs.39317 crores through a special purpose vehicle.

    The river linking projects are part of the national perspective plan (NPP) prepared by the ministry of jal shakti (the ministry of irrigation in its earlier avatar) in August 1980 for water resources development through inter basin transfer of water. The idea to transfer water from water-surplus basins to water-deficit basins has been hotly contested by environmentalists.

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    The government has argued that the project will benefit the water starved Bundelkhand region spread across the states of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.

    The Ken-Betwa river interlinking project involves transfer of water from the Ken to the Betwa River through the construction of the Daudhan Dam and a canal linking the two rivers – the Lower Orr project, Kotha barrage and the Bina complex multipurpose project.

    Together, the project will irrigate 10.62 lakh hectares of agricultural land and supply drinking water to a population of about 62 lakh and will also generate 103 mega-watts of hydropower and 27 mega-watts of solar power. The project will take eight years to complete.

    Environmental concerns

    Environmentalists and activists say that the river interlinking projects, including Ken-Betwa, do not yet have the statutory clearances. They point out that the projects are sub judice and have hardly progressed in the last two decades. Therefore, the union cabinet’s allocation of money and its reflection in the union budget is unfair, they say.

    According to the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, “the allocation of the funds for the project in the Union Budget and inclusion of a statement about the project in the speech of the President of India before the Joint Session of Parliament on Jan 31, 2022 are inappropriate. They seem to be timed in view of the upcoming Uttar Pradesh elections.”

    A report by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has claimed that the submergence of 6,017 hectares of forest land as part of this project would result in a total loss of 10,500 hectares of wildlife habitat, essentially by cutting off the core critical tiger habitat of the Panna tiger reserve from the rest of the national park.

    It said that the wildlife clearance was obtained without taking into account the entire flora and fauna and unique ecosystem of the region, ignoring the fact that the project is located within the core of the national park.

    This forest land is a unique ecosystem of morphological significance with a unique and rich biodiversity in the region which cannot be recreated, CSE had observed.

    Interlinking a government priority

    However, the minister for jal shakti, Bishweswar Tudu, said in his reply in Parliament that the government is pursuing the interlinking of rivers programme in a consultative manner and has accorded it top priority, the minister said in his reply.

    He said that the implementation of the river interlinking projects depends on consensus among concerned states.

    In this context, he said that the detailed project reports (DPRs) of Damanganga-Pinjal link and Par-Tapi-Narmada link have been completed and circulated to the states of Gujarat and Maharashtra.

    Likewise, the minister said, the DPRs of the interlinking project involving the Godavari and Cauvery rivers and consisting, further, of three links have also been completed and circulated to the concerned states and union territories for building consensus and agreement on water sharing between party states.

    The national water development agency, part of the NPP, has identified 30 links for preparation of feasibility reports. 16 of these river inter-linking projects fall under in the country’s peninsular region (peninsular component) and 14 of these rivers have their sources in the Himalayas (the Himalayan component).

    Five of the river linking projects concern rivers flowing from Nepal into India. These are project to link the Kosi and Ghaghra rivers; Gandak and Ganga rivers; the Ghaghra and Yamuna rivers; Sarda and Yamuna rivers; and the Kosi and the Mechi rivers.

    One interlinking of rivers projects involves four rivers – the Manas, Sankosh, Tista and Ganga rivers. Rivers Manas and Sankosh originate from Bhutan where is is called the Drangme Chhu.

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