New Delhi: Nearly four decades after it was conceptualised, India’s first river interlinking project, connecting Ken river in Madhya Pradesh with Betwa in Uttar Pradesh, finally got the green signal from the Union cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi Wednesday.
The river linking project has been the subject of concern regarding its likely environmental toll, but is expected to go a long way in addressing the woes of four water-starved districts of Uttar Pradesh and six districts of Madhya Pradesh that fall in the Bundelkhand region.
The decision to clear the Rs 44,605 crore project comes barely two months ahead of assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh.
Announcing the cabinet decision, Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur said the river linking project has been deemed a “national project”. This means the Centre will foot 90 per cent of the cost while the remaining 10 per cent will be shared by the two states.
“The project will be completed in 8 years. It will expedite the development of Bundelkhand region and will help improve the socio-economic condition of the people of the region,” Thakur said.
In the Bundelkhad region, he added, the project will benefit people hit by water shortage in the Banda, Mahoba, Jhansi and Lalitpur districts in Uttar Pradesh, and Tikamgarh, Panna, Chhattarpur, Sagar, Damoh and Datia in Madhya Pradesh.
“Not only drinking water, but these regions will get water for irrigation also,” the minister said.
The river-linking project
A dream project of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the project involves the transfer of water from Ken to the Betwa river through the construction of a 77-metre high dam and a 176km-long canal at Daudhan village in Madhya Pradesh, which will link the two rivers.
The BJP, in its 2019 Lok Sabha election manifesto, had promised to implement the project.
The project is expected to provide annual irrigation to 10.62 lakh hectares of land — 8.11 lakh hectares in MP and 2.51 lakh hectares in UP. Besides, it aims to provide drinking water supply to a population of 62 lakh in the two states. It will also generate 103 MW hydropower and 27 MW solar power.
Work on the project was originally slated to start in 2015. However, the project had failed to get off the drawing board, primarily because of differences between MP and UP over water-sharing during non-monsoon season, funding issues and regulatory clearances.
Environmentalists, Oppn protest
The project has faced protests from environmentalists and Opposition parties.
Hours before Union Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat signed a tripartite agreement for the project with the chief ministers of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh in March, Congress MP and former environment minister Jairam Ramesh had said the project will “destroy the Panna Tiger Reserve in MP”.
The CMs of UP and MP will sign a pact today to link the Ken and Betwa rivers. This will all but destroy the Panna Tiger Reserve in MP, a success story in translocation and revival. I had suggested alternatives 10 years ago but alas…
— Jairam Ramesh (@Jairam_Ramesh) March 22, 2021
Noted water conservationist Mihir Shah, who headed the high-level committee that drafted the National Water Policy (NWP) 2020 — the report is yet to be made public — had recommended that the government should shift its focus from building dams towards better management and distribution of water.
The draft policy mentions that there have been huge delays and massive cost escalation in the construction of large and medium dam projects, adding that there are unacceptable social and environmental costs.
(Edited by Neha Mahajan)