Ken-Betwa river linking project is an ambitious project with considerable benefits so much so that Ms Uma Bharti, Union Water Resources Minister, threatened to go on hunger strike last month if the project is not cleared soon. The project, if successfully initiated, will pave the way for taking up many more such projects, crucial to meet country’s irrigation needs and change the face of Indian agriculture.
River linking projects essentially provide a channel for the transfer of water from a surplus river to a deficit river. Globally, there are many examples like Rhine–Main–Danube Canal, Tennessee–Tombigbee Waterway etc which have been built successfully. In Indian context, the benefits are even greater since there is wide difference in rainfall pattern across the country causing rain deficit in some region and floods in some other region. The river linking will not only feed the deficit region but also provide an outlet to the excess water, otherwise cause of severe floods. Further, it would reduce the country’s dependence on monsoon which provides water not only for a short duration but is also erratic in nature.
Ken is a river flowing through M.P. and U.P. and has water surplus of about 1,000 Mn m3 . Betwa is another river mainly flowing through water scarce region of MP. The project proposes to link the two rivers by a canal 230 km long, equal to the distance between Delhi and Agra. The relatively short distance of the canal makes the project quite favourable from the cost perspective. In contrast, the Indira Gandhi canal, built to feed the deserts of Rajasthan, covers a total distance of 650 km. The impact of canal on the agrarian economy of Rajasthan is a case study on water transfer projects which has helped irrigate nearly 4,000 sq km of barren land in the desert district of Jaislmer.
The K-B project will not only meet the irrigation needs of the area in the route of the canal but a much larger area on the basin of river Betwa. Total area estimated to receive water for irrigation is 4,500 sq km, much larger than 470 sq km of area on the route. It may be noted that this area is larger than the area covered by the Indira Gandhi canal mentioned above. Currently, irrigation covers only 30% of cultivable area in the region.
Like any other developmental project, this project also involves certain sacrifices. The project would submerge about 10% area of the national park in the region reducing the space available to the animals and also cause partial loss of habitat for the vulture species. Yet, the benefits arriving out of the project linked to basic human needs, unlike industrial or highway projects, compel the policymakers to attempt a way out. Hope, the project management team finds a way to keep the damage to manageable level and the project sees the light of the day..
(Image courtesy of National Water Development Agency)