Interlinking of rivers is a plan that has come up many times, since the days of colonial rule. Currently, the idea has been given form through a proposed three-part project that spans both state and international boundaries, and involves 30 links that would connect water surplus basins to water-deficit ones.
One of the first links that will be created, for which a detailed project report (DPR) has been prepared, is the link between the Ken and Betwa rivers in Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh respectively. Otherwise known as Bundelkhand, this area suffers majorly from drought and related problems. The link is expected to provide irrigation to an area of 6,35,661 hectares annually, ensure drinking water supply for 1.34 million people as well as generate 78 MW of power.
The DPR projects the cost of the Ken-Betwa Link Project to be 349.25 billion (as per 2017-18 price levels) which will be borne in a 90:10 (Centre: State) ratio. This is a significant rise from earlier cost estimates of 180 billion for Phase-I and 85.9 billion for Phase-II at 2015-16 price levels. The two phases have since been combined.
Although government bodies have given the green signal to the project that is expected to take nine years for completion, it has not yet been able to take off. Despite official assertions that it would begin soon, years have passed. Water being an area under state government jurisdiction also means that the governments of MP and UP have to be in agreement. The current MP government, led by Kamal Nath, has also shot down UP’s wish to increase its water share, which indicates that the project might be looking at further delay.
Environmental activists have appealed against the clearances for the project before the National Green Tribunal. They argue that Ken does not have surplus water to transfer to Betwa. Another area of concern is the environmental repercussions such a link would have. The creation of the Daudhan Dam that would facilitate water transfer would submerge over 9000 hectares, a large swathe of which is inside the Panna Tiger Reserve. Critics have also suggested that there may be data discrepancies in the assessment reports and the public hearings that were held were not keeping with legal norms.