What are the problems with the Ken-Betwa river link project?
The Steering Committee of the Ken-Betwa Link Project (KBLP) had its third meeting in New Delhi on January 18, 2023. Chaired by the Secretary of the Department of Water Resources, in the Ministry of Jal Shakti, the project has been considered a “flagship” project of the national government. Moreover, the project “is critical for the water security and socio-economic development of the Bundelkhand region.”
Recently, in December last year, the Union Cabinet nodded for the Ken-Betwa Link Project at the cost of Rs 44,605 crore. In the KBLP project, both the Madhya Pradesh and the national governments are going to link the two rivers, Ken and Betwa. The purpose is that by linking the two rivers, the Betwa river will be able to provide water to the Bundelkhand region in Uttar Pradesh.
The Ken-Betwa link- EXPLAINED!
The Ken-Betwa link would be more like a canal. The canal is going to be fed by the new Daudhan dam. The dam will be constructed within the Panna Tiger Reserve.
The central government has stated that the dam is going to generate around 103 MW of hydroelectric power.
The linking canal would run through Tikamgarh, Chhatarpur, and the districts of Jhansi. It is expected that once the project is completed, it will irrigate around 6.3 lakh hectares of land per year.
What do experts have to say?
After studying the complete model of the project, ecological and hydrological experts aren’t completely convinced of the idea. This is due to the “surplus and deficit” model that the project comes with. However, the experts feel that the model does not hold a robust basis in science.
Experts are also worried that the project might put the water security of Panna at risk. In the year 2018, Ravi Chopra, an environmentalist, called the project “nonsense”. The criticism does not end here. In the year 2021, Raghu Chundavat, a conservation biologist expressed his concern through a sarcastic comment, saying thanks to the Ken-Betwa Link Project, “Bundelkhand will suffer for decades to come.”
The legal issues
As far as the legal issues are concerned, mere approval by the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife for the KBLP is not sufficient. From the legal perspective, the project is not been seen as crucial and required for the enhancement and improved management of the wildlife therein, as conferred in Section 35(6) of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
This observation had been made by the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) of the Supreme Court of India with regard to the concept of constructing a high reservoir dam on the Ken in the Panna National Park and Tiger Reserve for the Ken-Betwa Link Project.
Much to the great relief of the applicant, the observation declared that the wildlife approval conferred by the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) on August 23, 2016, was actually ultra vires.
Earlier, an expert body formed by the Standing Committee of the NBWL suggested that “an independent hydrological study of river Ken is required” but the Indian government was ignorant of the suggestions. Additionally, the body also warned that no development project should harm or destroy the ecology of remnant fragile ecosystems and a crucial tiger habitat in India.