The Centre gave the final nod last week for the Ken-Betwa Interlinking river project at a total cost of Rs 44,605 crore. Modi Government said that this would pave the way for more interlinking of river projects in the country.
The project got the final clearance despite environmentalists, water experts and academicians coming out against inter linking rivers across the country. A sudden move on the part of the Modi Government to give the nod for the Ken-Betwa project is alleged nothing but political with elections round the corner.
It could be political move but the issue is, what I think, bigger than mere politics. It pertains to our own existence, the existence of our nature, the survival of wild life, the future of our green canopy and the life of our water bodies.
GARLAND OF RIVERS
Many arguments put forth that interlinking would help in converting all the regions drought free. Water could be drained from surplus river bodies to regions where there is a drought. Moreover, at time of floods also, the water from the flooding rivers could be diverted to less water flowing rivers.
All accepted. But we have to look at the vast network of tributaries and rivers that flow criss-cross the country. The country has a vast natural network of tributaries that garland the main rivers. Take Ganga, Brahmaputra, Cauvery, Krishna or Periyar, we have a cobweb of tributaries that flows through lakhs of kilometres. So it is not that we do not have vast spread of linkages. But the main issue is that we have not maintained well the canals or the tributaries. Even we are at a loss of protecting our major rivers. Once this is done, we can authoritavely say our water problem can be solved to a greater extent.
One of the major arguments for inter linking is that surplus water could be diverted to drought hit rivers. In the last many years, we have seen that almost all the rivers in North and South are flooded at one time or the other. The southern rivers are almost full throughout the year. So all our rivers are full now.
ALL OUT FEAR
The inter linking of rivers is feared to wipe out large tracts of forest land because of building of dams and canals. This could also affect wildlife. Moreover, the dams and canals are for sure gong to displace a large number of people. Apart from this, there are fears of lifestyle changes and transforming water quality and even climatic changes.
Let us look at some of the ecological aspects that the environmentalists point out while arguing against the inter linkage. All the major rivers in India have its origin in the Himalayas, the Western Ghats and flows down important plains like the Gangetic, Delta and the Sundarbans. All these ecological regions are abundant with numerous species that reside within the unique ecosystems characteristic of these zones. No doubt, inter linking of rivers could be disastrous to these ecosystems once the natural water flow is altered. Moreover, canals should have to be dredged inside forests and ecological sites that could be a death knell to the already fragile ecosystem. The Western Ghats and the Himalayans are all fragile and we have witnessed numerous landslips in the recent years. An alteration in the nature’s mechanism means inviting more trouble.
Intra-linking or joining rivers within the same basin happens naturally. It is a geo-morphological process. However, interlinking rivers from different rivers is quite different; it is not natural but quite man made and has its consequences.
Linking of rivers involves the participation of several states. Rivers and water sharing is always a contentious issue in India and one cannot forget the conflict between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu over Cauvery waters. Moreover, one can see the tug of war between Kerala and Tamil Nadu over Mullaperiyar. So a major question of bringing together the states into one fold is always arguable.
Ken-Betwa, as some scientists and environmentalists note is alleged to be a “nonsense” project. One of the main adversary factor about Ken-Betwa is that ken is on the eastern side and Ben is on the west side. These are two adjacent basins and when there is drought in ken basin, the same happens in Betwa basin. If there is floods in ken, then the same flood is in Betwa also. So there is no surplus water and no droughts—both are same and so it is as an unworthy project.
Coming to the ken-Betwa project, it is the first one under the National Perspective Plan for interlinking of rivers. The project envisages transferring water from Ken river to Betwa river and the Link Canal will be 221 km long, including a 2-km long tunnel.
According to the government, the project will provide an annual irrigation of 10.62 lakh ha, drinking water supply to a population of about 62 lakhs and also generate 103 MW of hydropower and 27 MW solar power. The Project is proposed to be implemented in 8 years with state of the art technology.
The Government says that it would be of immense benefit to the water starved Bundelkhand region, spread across the states of MP and UP. This project will provide enormous benefits to the districts of Panna, Tikamgarh, Chhatarpur, Sagar, Damoh, Datia, Vidisha, Shivpuri and Raisen of Madhya Pradesh and Banda, Mahoba, Jhansi and Lalitpur of Uttar Pradesh.
According to the National Water Development Agency under the Jal Shakti Ministry, the Daudhan dam, to be built on the Ken river, will a submerge 9000 ha area, out of which 5803 ha comes under Panna Tiger Reserve.