The first phase of the Ken-Betwa river link project has been given a go-ahead by the standing committee of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL). The committee has, however, put some additional conditions while approving the project. The river-ling project is crucial for the future of drought-prone areas of the Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. It will not only help in ensuring water supply for irrigation and drinking purposes but also generate huge amount of electricity. There are some ecological concerns as well but the National Water Development Agency (NWDA), which is looking after the project, believes they could be minimised with proper planning and implementation.
Here we present 10 things you need to know about the project:
1. What is Ken-Betwa link project?
The Ken-Betwa link project envisages diversion of surplus waters of Ken basin to water deficit Betwa basin. This link canal will provide irrigation to water short areas of upper Betwa basin of Madhya Pradesh by way of substitution and also to en route areas of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. An earthen dam with side channel is proposed on river Ken at Daudhan, 2.5 km upstream of existing Gangau weir.
2. The initial idea
The idea of linking rivers with surplus water to those with less water in India has been existing since the British Raj. Before the introduction of railways, then British engineer Sir Arthur Cotton had sought to link river Ganga and Cauvery to facilitate inland navigation. However, the idea could not take shape as railways made travel across the country easy. In independent India, the National Water Development Agency was asked to conduct feasibility and water balance studies of the linking programme of 30 rivers, according to the Indian Express.
3. Vajpayee momentum
The river interlinking idea gained momentum during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s regime. The then government had planned to connect 14 Himalayan and 16 peninsular rivers by creating 3,000 reservoirs and 30 canals. It would have helped irrigate 87 million hectares of land and produce 34 gigawatt of hydroelectricity. A task force was also formed by the Supreme Court and it set an action plan for all detailed project reports to be completed by 2006.
4. Roll out of the project
Union minister for water resources, chief ministers of UP and MP signed a memorandum of understanding in 2005. Following this, a detailed project report on the Ken-Betwa river link project was prepared. However, the project received strong opposition from conservationists as well as the Ministry of Environment. The matter reached the Supreme Court which on February 27, 2012 expressed the “pious hope of speedy implementation” of the project.
5. Modi boost
The river link project received a boost under PM Narendra Modi government. Uma Bharti, Union water resources minister, made a strong pitch for completing the project in 10 years to tackle drought in the region. The government also allocated Rs 9,393 crore for the project but it remained stalled because of the absence of environmental clearance.
6. Total cost and impact on wildlife
The total cost of the project has been estimated to be Rs 10,000 crore. It will require diversion of 5,258 hectares of forest land, including 4,141 hectares of Panna Tiger Reserve.
The project will ensure availability of water in the drought-prone areas of UP and MP. It will also provide water for irrigating 6 lakh hectares of land per year and drinking water to about 13.42 lakh people in the region.
8. Conservationists’ concern
Green activists had claimed that the project would badly affect Ken Gharial sanctuary. As per the detailed project report, one of the barrages will be constructed inside the sanctuary. The NWDA, however, claims that the sanctuary will benefit from the project. Further, the environment ministry had pointed out that the phase 1 of the project itself would lead to loss of 59.03 sq km of Critical Tiger Habitat of Panna Tiger Reserve as this area would submerge. There would also be an indirect loss of 105.23 sq km of CTH because of fragmentation and loss of connectivity.
9. NBWL clearance
The National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) has cleared Phase-I of Ken-Betwa river link project. The project was given inprinciple approval in the 38th meeting of NBWL standing committee meeting on May 10, according to IE.
10. NBWL standing committee decisions
The committee shot down the proposal of not using the project for power generation to minimise ecological impact. It also refused to reduce the height of the dam by 10 metres as it would not leave much water for linking the rivers. The committee has, however, put some additional conditions. These are:
a) Compensating direct loss of 105 sq km of tiger habitat: For this Nauradehi, Rani Durgavati and Ranipur wildlife sanctuaries will be integrated with Panna Tiger Reserve.
b) Affected villagers to be rehabilitated at the project’s cost.
c) The dam reservoir area to be retained as core tiger reserve with minimum activities.
d) No fishing to be allowed at the dam site.
e) No new mining leases to be allowed on tiger dispersal routes.
f) A landscape-based plan for the area will be finalised with the National Tiger Conservation Authority assisted by WII, state forest department and the project proponents.