The Supreme Court-appointed Central Empowered Committee (CEC) has raised a lot of questions on the project in connection with the Ken-Betwa river link project. The Supreme Court will soon consider this CEC report.
The Ken-Betwa River Addition Project is a much-awaited central government project aimed at providing water for irrigation and drinking in the drought-prone Bundelkhand region. This project is a part of the “Nadi Jodo Yojana” prepared during the reign of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Under this scheme, there are plans to connect thirty major rivers of the country, including 14 Himalayan regions and 16 rivers of peninsular India. According to this plan, 30 canals, as well as 3000 reservoirs and various hydroelectric projects with a capacity of 34,000 MW were to be constructed.
In addition, it was expected to provide irrigation facilities on 87 million hectares of land upon completion. The Ken-Betwa Link Project was considered to be the first link of this large river link scheme. A few months ago, it was being said in media reports that the governments of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh have agreed to an agreement on this project and it will be officially announced in the coming few days.
The Central Empowered Committee (CEC) appointed by Supreme Court has said that this project can destroy the unique ecology of Panna Tiger Reserve. In such a situation, a detailed study of the long-term impacts should be done keeping in mind the conservation interests of Panna National Park and Tiger Reserve before approving and starting the work on the proposed river link project.
Apart from this, the CEC underlined another critical point in its report: the issue of water sharing between Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh has also not been cleared yet. Uttar Pradesh is demanding more water from this project. U.P. has made its claim before the CEC claiming 50% of the water. U.P. is demanding about 530.5 million cubic meters (mcm) of water, while according to the DPR, 384 mcm of water will be used in the upper Betwa basin. In the absence of water, U.P. will not have water to develop irrigation in the upper Betwa region according to the demand it has made. It is also being suspected that Ken will not have surplus water to give to the Betwa River. In such a situation, the first phase of the Ken-Betwa River Link project itself will fail.
At the same time, CEC has also questioned the future benefits of irrigation. The CEC says that the benefit that is being conveyed from this project still exists. For example, right now, about 2.14 lakh hectares of area is being irrigated by the Bairiyarpur Pick Up Wear (upstream structure) in U.P., whereas the irrigated land from the Ken-Betwa River Link Project (KBLP) claims to be 2.52 lakh hectares. Therefore, only 0.38 lakh hectare irrigation area will be increased.
Similarly, Madhya Pradesh is also using water completely from the Bairiyarpur pick-up weir of Ken River. Similarly, there are 182 irrigation projects in the Ken basin and 348 projects in the Betwa basin. The CEC has said that without any such new and big project, there is a lot of potential to develop irrigation related structures.
Although two years ago, when the efforts to implement this project started, even then, various environmentalists, residents and public representatives had openly lodged their protest. These people believed that the dam and the transfer of water over the Ken river would collapse the Ken Canal system. If this happens, districts like Banda will turn into deserts. Hundreds of villages in Panna, Chhatarpur, Banda, Mahoba and Hamirpur districts of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh drink water directly from it.
About 70% of the irrigation work in Banda district is dependent on the canal system, which originated from Gangau and Bariarpur barrages, built 100 years ago. Even after the above possibilities, the scheme went ahead at the government level. But the above comments from the CEC have raised questions on this, whereas 28 thousand crores of the public fund is included in this project.