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Ken-Betwa project, a threat to wildlife?
Jul 02, 2016

An ambitious project to link Ken and Betwa rivers has become a stage for a unique man-animal conflict.

Argument in favour of the project:

  • According to Union Water Ministry the proposed Daudhan dam and the 2.5 km canal — the key structures of the project — that will transfer surplus water from the Uttar Pradesh section of the Ken to the Betwa in Madhya Pradesh are critical to irrigate nearly 7,00,000 hectares in drought-ravaged Bundelkhand.

Argument of environmentalist:

  • Environmentalists say that such a dam will submerge at least 4,000 hectares of Madhya Pradesh’s Panna tiger reserve, whose tigers were almost lost to poaching in 2009 and have only recently been partially replenished.
  • They allege that most districts in Madhya Pradesh will not actually get the promised water.
  • There are vultures in the region, whose nests will be threatened by the height of the dam.

Inter linking of Rivers:

The idea behind ILR is to divert water from surplus rivers in the north and east, which face frequent flooding, to water scarce regions in the west and south, where droughts are a common occurrence.

History of the Proposals being made:

  • The idea of interlinking of rivers in the Indian subcontinent is atleast 150 years old. During the British Raj in India, Sir Arthur Cotton, a British general and irrigation engineer, first suggested linking the Ganga and the Cauvery for navigational purposes.
  • Dr. K.L. Rao’s  Proposal (1972), which had  2640 km. long  Ganga - Cauvery link as its main component involved large scale pumping over a head of 550 m. The power requirement for lifting the water was huge, estimated to be 5000 to 7000 MW, for irrigating an additional area of 4 million hectares only. The scheme was also not having any flood control benefit.  Dr. Rao had estimated this proposal to cost about Rs. 12,500 crores, which at 2002 price level comes to about Rs. 1,50,000 crores.  The Central Water Commission, which examined the proposal, found it to be grossly under estimated and economically prohibitive.
  • Capt. Dastur Proposal (1977) envisaged construction of two canals – the first 4200 km. Himalayan Canal at the foot of Himalayan slopes running from the Ravi in the West to the Brahmaputra and beyond in the east; and the second 9300 km Garland Canal covering the central and southern parts, with both the canals integrated with numerous lakes and interconnected with pipelines at two points, Delhi and Patna.  The cost estimated by Capt. Dastur was Rs. 24,095 crores.   The cost estimated by the experts in 1979 was about Rs. 12 million crores. The realistic cost at 2002 price level comes to about Rs. 70 million crores.
  • The idea to link rivers got a shot in the arm with the establishment of the National Water Development Agency in 1982 by then prime minister Indira Gandhi.
  • The first National Democratic Alliance government (1999-2004) was keen to implement the interlinking of rivers (ILR) project, and the Supreme Court, following a public interest litigation, in 2003, asked for it to be implemented by 2016
  • I 2002, Supreme Court asking to expedite the project.

Component of National River Planning project:

It has two components:

a) Himalayan Component
b) Peninsular Component

Pros and Cons of the Project:

  • It will lead to massive displacement of people
  • Since the Ganga basin’s topography is flat, building dams would not substantially add to river flows and these dams could threaten the forests of the Himalayas and impact the functioning of the monsoon system.
  • The transfer of such enormous amounts of water will inundate forests and land for reservoirs, and the weight of billions of litres of water may even have seismic implications in the Himalayan region.
    Arguments for IRL

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