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Will the Ken-Betwa link project make Bundelkhand Switzerland or Sudan?

The Ken-Betwa Link Project or KBLP was first proposed in the year 1982. In this project, the Ken River of Madhya Pradesh

By Shishir Agrawal
New Update
Ken Betwa Link Project

The Bundelkhand region, of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, has seen frequent droughts and farmer suicides. The scarcity of water, due to which the fields dry up and life becomes disorganized has also been a big and 'evergreen' election issue. On December 2021, the Ken-Betwa Link Project (KBLP) costing Rs 44,605 crore was approved by the Central Ministry. It is estimated that 10.62 lakh hectares of land in 6 districts of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh will be irrigated through this project. Apart from this, there is also a target to produce 103 MW of hydropower and 27 MW of solar power. Former Madhya Pradesh CM Uma Bharti, from Bundelkhand itself, says that Bundelkhand will become Switzerland with this project. However, it will be a matter to be seen whether Bundelkhand becomes Switzerland or Sudan.

Ken Betwa inter linking of river project
Source: PIB
Ken Betwa inter linking of river project

The Ken-Betwa Link Project or KBLP was first proposed in the year 1982. In this project, the Ken River of Madhya Pradesh will be connected to Betwa of Uttar Pradesh through a canal. The government says that by taking Ken's 'surplus water' to Betwa, the thirst of 62 lakh people of Bundelkhand will be quenched and the drought will end. A memorandum of agreement was signed in March 2021 by the Ministry of Jal Shakti, Government of Madhya Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh regarding this project. Under the project, a 77-meter-high and 2-kilometer-wide Daudhan dam will be built on the Ken River in the Chhatarpur district of Madhya Pradesh. Water will be stored on this dam and the excess water will be released into the Betwa River through a 230-kilometre-long canal.

Ken betwa river linking map

What is the controversy about the project?

This ambitious project of the government has also been very controversial. The project got approval from the National Board for Wildlife (NBW) in the year 2016. But, according to the Central Empowered Committee of the Supreme Court, 

“The approval of the project by the Standing Committee of the National Board of Wildlife does not establish that the project upholds the Section 35(6) of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972.” 

This was said during the petition hearing, where the petitioner said that the approval of this project by the Standing Committee of the National Board of Wildlife in one of its meetings was beyond its jurisdiction. This committee, appointed by the Supreme Court in 2019, also said that this proposal has failed to find a more permanent and economical option.

Panna Tiger Reserve

The canal coming out under this project will also pass through the Panna Tiger Reserve of Madhya Pradesh. This will affect the population of vultures and jackals here. According to a report of Environment Impact Assessment, 4141 hectares of Panna Tiger Reserve will be submerged due to this project. Apart from this, it is believed that this project will also have a bad effect on the Ken Gharial Sanctuary. Speaking to The Wire, Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asia Network on Dams and People said that the project involves power generation, which is why it cannot pass through any protected area. The Supreme Court had also said that while approving the project by the Standing Committee, its impact on the Ken Gharial Sanctuary was not taken into account. However, it was suggested by the Standing Committee to conduct an independent hydrological study of the Ken River. But, the government did not consider it necessary to accept this suggestion.

How much benefit to the farmers?

The Bundelkhand region, comprising 6 districts of Madhya Pradesh and 7 districts of Uttar Pradesh, has historically been prone to drought. During the 18th and 19th centuries, there was a drought that lasted for 16 years. It increased three times between 1968 and 1992. Keeping these things in mind, the government thought that Ken River should be merged with Betwa. The government claims that Ken River has surplus water. But, how much is it? This is confidential.

In one of its reports, the government said that the Ken River has 1047.87 million cubic meters (MCM) of excess water. But Professor Brij Gopal had already rejected this claim of the government. In such a situation, the social organizations urged the government to make the data public. But, the government says that this information is confidential and hence it cannot be made public. Talking to IndiaSpend in the year 2020, Professor Gopal raised a question before the government if Ken has surplus water then why do the people of Panna yearn for drinking water during summer?

Going through the media reports, it is known that the local people fear that the water in the river will reduce due to the construction of a dam, which will affect their lives. However, the Director General of the National Water Development Agency (NWDA) Bhopal Singh says that due to the continuous release of water from the dam, the water level will increase. This will not only solve the problem of drinking water for the people, but the fields will also get more water.

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