Ken-Betwa Link Project: Benefits and Challenges – Explained, pointwise

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The Steering Committee for the Ken-Betwa Link Project recently held its 3rd meeting in New Delhi. The Chairperson of the Committee (Secretary, Department of Water Resources) remarked that the Ken-Betwa Link Project is a ‘flagship’ project of the Government and ‘it is critical for the water security and socio-economic development of Bundelkhand region’. The project was approved in December 2021 by the Union Government. The Ken-Betwa Link project is expected to cost INR 44,605 crore. While the project is expected to benefit local population, experts have questioned the utility of the project citing its environmental impact especially on the Panna Tiger Reserve and its tiger population. They recommend a more cautious approach before undertaking projects of such scale.

What is the Ken-Betwa Link Project?

The Ken-Betwa Link Project (KBLP) is the first project under the National Perspective Plan for interlinking of rivers. Under this project, water from the Ken river will be transferred to the Betwa river. Both these rivers are tributaries of river Yamuna.

Read More: Interlinking of Rivers Project in India – Explained, Pointwise

The Ken-Betwa Link project was conceptualised in the 1980s. However, the water-sharing agreement could not be reached between the States of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. The work on the project was originally slated to begin in 2015 but got delayed. The project got a fresh push in 2020-21, with the Union Government making a revised deal with the two states ( Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh).

Ken Betwa Link Project UPSC

Source: Indian Express

The Project has two phases.

Under Phase-I, Daudhan Dam complex (along with Low and High Level Tunnels) and Ken-Betwa Link Canal and Powerhouses will be completed. The Daudhan Dam will be built on the Ken river within the Panna Tiger Reserve. The dam will generate 103 MW of hydroelectric power.

Under Phase-II, there are 3 components. Under this, Lower Orr dam, Bina Complex Project and Kotha Barrage will be constructed.

This project will benefit people across the districts of MP and UP i.e. Tikamgarh, Panna and Chhatarpur districts in MP and Jhansi, Banda, Lalitpur and Mahoba districts in UP.

A Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) called Ken-Betwa Link Project Authority (KBLPA) will be set up to implement the project.

What are the benefits of Ken-Betwa Link Project?

Address Water Scarcity: Droughts are common in the Bundelkhand region, particularly during the non-monsoon season. Because of the hard rock and marginal alluvium terrain, the region is also deficient in groundwater. As a result, there is a need for a large-scale project to assist in harnessing flood water during the monsoon season and stabilising water availability in the region during the lean season, particularly during drought years.

The project will also rejuvenate all the tanks in the route area of the link canal by feeding through the link canal, wherever possible and would help in groundwater recharge.

The use of micro-irrigation is also planned in about 5 lakh hectares command of the project for better water-use efficiency.

Socio-Economic Development: The project envisages to provide enormous benefits to the region covering an annual irrigation of 10.62 lakh hectares, drinking water supply to a population of about 62 lakh. It will also generate 103 MW of hydropower and 27 MW of solar power, utilising about 4,909 million cubic metres (MCM) of water.

The project will definitely bring economic prosperity to this backward area due to increased agricultural activities and the arrest of migration of people from the region. It can help check distress migration from the region.

Comprehensive Landscape Management Plan (LMP) is being prepared by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) for the conservation of wildlife and biodiversity, not only in the Panna Tiger Reserve (PTR) area but also in the surrounding area to offset the impact of the Daudhan

This project will establish a precedent for future river-linking initiatives and demonstrate India’s innovative spirit and forward-thinking.

What are the challenges associated with the Ken-Betwa Link Project?

Environmental: (a) The project will partly submerge the Panna Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh and affect the habitat of multiple species including tigers, jackals and vultures etc.; (b) There will be destructive impact of the proposed dam on the flow of water into and outside of the Ken Gharial Sanctuary. The Supreme Court Central Empowered Committee (CEC) has mentioned in its report that “the Standing Committee of the National Board of Wildlife has not considered the impact of the project on the downstream gharial sanctuary“; (c) According to a report of the Forest Advisory Committee, an estimated 6 million trees will be cut down for the project which will adversely affect the rainfall in the already dry Bundelkhand region; (d) The Environmental Impact Assessment of the project, based on which the project was given environmental clearance in 2017, has been tagged as inadequate with factual errors by a number of official agencies, including the Forest Advisory Committee within the Ministry of Environment; (e) An expert body formed by the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) suggested that “an independent hydrological study of river Ken is required” but the suggestion was ignored.

Legal: (a) As far as the legal issues are concerned, mere approval by the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) for the KBLP is not sufficient. According to the CEC, the project is not  ‘crucial’ and hence required for enhanced and improved management of the wildlife, as conferred in Section 35(6) of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. According to the Sections 29 and 35(6) human activities within National Parks and Wildlife sanctuaries are restricted without prior approval. Diversion of, stopping or enhancement of the flow or water into or outside of them is not allowed unless doing so is deemed to be necessary to improve and better manage the wildlife within a sanctuary or a national park. And in the case of the Panna Tiger Reserve, the CEC has found such diversion to not be necessary to improve and better manage wildlife in the park; (b) The CEC also observed that the wildlife approval conferred by the Standing Committee of the NBWL in August 2016 was ultra vires; (c) The CEC had submitted its report to the Supreme Court in August 2019, and the matter remains sub judice. The project is also reportedly still to receive full forest clearance; (d) A challenge to environment approval to the project is also pending before the National Green Tribunal, presumably because the tribunal believes the project must first secure forest clearance.

Political: The water-sharing issue between UP and MP has not been resolved completely. The States have not been able to agree on water-sharing during non-monsoon months.

Social: There will be a social cost associated with the reconstruction and rehabilitation that will be necessary as a result of the displaced people that the implementation of the project will cause. Experts are worried that the project could threaten Panna’s access to clean water.

Economic: The project is expected to cost upward of INR 45,000 crore. Experts contend that the benefits from the project may not be commensurate with the project cost.

What should be done going ahead?

First, all the concerns raised by the Supreme Court appointed CEC about the Ken-Betwa Link Project should be addressed.

Second, the project should be built on verified and up-to-date data. Aside from that, a proper Environmental Impact Assessment should be performed.

Third, The government should ensure that adequate compensation is provided for the resettlement of those who will be displaced as a result of the project.

Fourth, the Government should ensure that the provisions of the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act (CAMPA, 2016) are effectively implemented. There should be quality afforestation equivalent to the diverted forest land.

Fifth, Experts have called for new detailed report and landscape management plan. The Government should address the concerns highlighted by various bodies and explore this option.

Sixth, Experts have argued that restoring Bunderlkhand’s former Chandel-period lakes and ponds, as well as replicating the successful field-pond schemes, will be more cost-effective, faster and environment-friendly. The Government should promote the use of traditional knowledge in water conservation to address the issue of water scarcity.

Read More: [Kurukshetra July Summary] Jal Shakti Abhiyan and Traditional Knowledge in Water Conservation – Explained, pointwise

According to the Government, the Ken-Betwa project can address the issues related to water scarcity in the region. Irrigation and hydropower projects will contribute to prosperity of the region. However, there are legitimate environment concerns vis-a-vis benefits of the project. The Government should address these concerns and ensure that the adverse impacts on the local population and biodiversity are minimized. The Government is promoting traditional knowledge in water conservation through the rejuvenation of traditional water bodies under the Jal Shakti Abhiyan. Such sustainable initiatives should be scaled-up.

Syllabus: GS III, Conservation.

Source: The Hindu, Indian Express

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