Ken-Betwa river-linking project faces new hurdle

crucial lifeline:  The Betwa river in Bundelkhand region near Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh.

crucial lifeline: The Betwa river in Bundelkhand region near Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh.

A new hurdle has come in the way of the marquee Ken-Betwa river interlink project in its terms of financing.

The NITI Aayog (National Institution for Transforming India) has recommended that Madhya Pradesh contribute 40 per cent of the project cost, with the Centre contributing 60 per cent. The Ministry of Water Resources (MoWR) has opposed this and requested that 90 per cent of the funds be routed through the Centre.

Senior officials of the ministry have discussed the matter with the NITI Aayog but a final decision has not been been taken yet. “We have made our case to the vice chairperson (Arvind Panagariya) and they have appreciated our view,” said Amarjit Singh, Secretary, MoWR.

A lack of clarity on the funding pattern could mean more delays to the Rs. 10,000-crore project that would be the first ever inter-State river interlinking project.

The project was given a go-ahead by the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) at a meeting chaired by Minister of State for Environment and Forests, Anil Madhav Dave, last August. An environment clearance panel has, according to officials in the water ministry, also cleared the project on 30th December.

A separate committee that determines forest clearance to such projects, is yet to take a call. “The toughest bit was the wildlife clearance...once the funding mechanism is clear, it would take seven years for the project to be ready,” said Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti.

This will be the first time that a river project will be located within a tiger reserve.

Submerging tiger habitat

The Rs. 10,000-crore Ken-Betwa project will irrigate the drought-prone Bundelkhand region but, in the process, also submerge about 10 per cent of the Panna Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh, feted as a model tiger conservation reserve.

The main feature of the project is a 230-km long canal and a series of barrages and dams connecting the Ken and Betwa rivers that will irrigate 3.5 lakh hectares in Madhya Pradesh and 14,000 hectares of Uttar Pradesh in Bundelkhand. The key projects are the Makodia and Dhaudhan dams, the latter expected to be 77 metres high and responsible for submerging 5,803 hectares of tiger habitat in the Panna Tiger Reserve.

When, and if, the proposed reservoir is filled to the brim, 6,221 hectares will be inundated — of this, 4,141 hectares is core forest and located inside the reserve. A key point of contention between wildlife experts associated with the impact assessment and dam proponents in the MoWR was whether the height of the Daudhan dam could be reduced to limit the water overflow.

The MoWR had refused to agree to this, saying it would compromise the economic viability of the project. The records of the August meeting suggest wildlife experts were convinced.

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Printable version | Aug 9, 2022 9:52:15 am |