MP Chief Minister defers decision on Ken-Betwa Link Project due to lack of briefing?

Lalit Shastri

Ken-Betwa Link Project
Ken-Betwa Link Project

The Madhya Pradesh Wildlife Board meeting chaired by state chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan concluded in the State capital last week with the chief minister choosing to defer a decision on the Ken-Betwa Link project due to objections raised by some members regarding the environmental impact of this ambitious project, especially vis-a-vis the Panna Tiger Reserve and the vulture population in this area.

According to insiders, senior wildlife expert Ranjit Singh had raised strong objections. He even said at the Wildlife Board meeting that the Ken-Betwa project would be at the cost of the Panna Tiger Reserve.

The Chief Minister obviously lacked prior briefing. Instead of addressing the objections raised at the Wildlife Board meeting regarding the Ken-Betwa Link project, he only emphasised the need to strike a balance when it came to meeting the needs of the human population and the stakeholders on one side and conservation of ecology and wildlife on the other. Neither the Chief Minister nor any official from the Government’s side had points or counter-points – backed by ground-level survey – to close the argument on this issue. Consequently, the Chief Minister had no option but to defer the matter.

The chief minister’s decision to defer any decision on the Ken-Betwa Link Project at the last Wildlife Board meeting is being questioned in political circles. According to official sources in the State capital, Union Minister and a political heavyweight from the Chhatarpur-Panna belt Uma Bharti has even contacted officials in the State to find out what had compelled the chief minister to defer a decision on the Ken-Betwa Link project last week.

What emerges from this episode is that there is total lack of coordination between two important wings of the State Government -the state Forest and Water Resource Departments. Some officers in the State Forest department are opposed to the Ken-Betwa Link project and they are using the Pana Tiger Reserve as a lever to stall any move to put this ambitious project, which has already been delayed excessively, on the fast track. A large part of Panna Tiger Reserve remains parched and there is immense water shortage in this area during the lean season and the forest bosses are failing to take any lesson from the Pench experience where the Totladoh Reservoir has only helped in raising the water table and providing a perfect mix of prey-base and carnivore population.

What is important is that with proper mitigation measures the Ken-Betwa Project would be a boon for the human population residing in the Ken-Betwa basin and also help in conserving wildlife in the Panna Tiger Reserve on a stronger footing.

Only a small part of Panna Tiger Reserve would come under submrgence
Only a small part of Panna Tiger Reserve would come under submergence

Inquiries have revealed that less than 10 per cent of the Panna Tiger Reserve area would come under submergence by the Ken-Betwa Link project. The tiger population in Panna Tiger Reserve is spread out in the Madla, Hinauta and Panna range. It is being pointed out by the park managers that after they took over the project to repopulate the Panna Tiger Reserve over five years ago, there are at least two tigers that have crossed over to the other side of the Gangau Wier and made the forest on the other side as their habitat.

Panna vulture
Photo courtesy: www.pannatigerreserve.in

The area in the close vicinity of Gangau Wier would be coming under submergence but the vertical cliffs downstream that are home for the vultures of Panna, barring a small ridge close to the river where the vulture population is estimated to be less than three dozen, would remain unaffected. There are also a few villages that would be falling within the submergence area. It will be wrong to say that once the project comes up, Panna habitat will become fragmented. One only has to take stock of the landscape to counter this argument.

Ken-Betwa Link Project

Ken Betwa Link Project proposes to divert the surplus waters of river Ken through Ken-Betwa link canal to river Betwa for meeting water requirements in the water deficit Betwa basin. The proposal includes construction of a dam across the Ken river upstream of the existing Gangau Weir, for storing and transferring of the waters through a link canal from Ken river to Betwa river. The quantity of water proposed to be diverted from Ken basin, after considering inbasin demands and downstream commitments (viz. 1375 Mm3 for Madhya Pradesh and 850 Mm3 for Uttar Pradesh), is 1020 Mm3.

The proposed Ken-Betwa link project envisages the following works:

  • A dam at the Daudhan 2.5 km upstream of the existing Gangau weir with FRL of 287.0 m and gross storage capacity of 2775 Mm3.The maximum height of the dam is 73.80 m. The total length of the side channel spillway is 326 m. 15 gates of 18 m x 18 m size are provided to pass the design flood of 45104 cumecs.
  • A 2 km long tunnel followed by about 230 km long link canal for transferring 1020 Mm3 of water from Ken river. Out of 1020 Mm3,659 Mm3 (after meeting enroute irrigation requirements) will be released into Betwa river upstream of Parichha weir by utilising the existing BarwaSagar as terminal reservoir. The link canal will offtake from the tail race of Power House No.2 with FSL at 259.0 m.
  • Two power houses, one at the foot of the dam and other at the end of 2 km long tunnel. The installed capacities of powerhouse No.1 and powerhouse No.2 are 3X20 MW and 2X6 MW respectively.
  • The existing outlet (i.e. waste weir on the extreme right side) of BarwaSagar shall be used to drop the link canal water into Betwathrough Barwariver.
  • Diversion of 659 Mm3 of water to Betwa basin upstream of Parichha weir will be utilised by way of substitution to provide annual irrigation to 1.27 lakh ha (CCA 1.02 lakh ha) of drought prone areas of Upper Betwa sub-basin. This irrigation will be provided through four projects identified by the Water Resources Department, Govt. of Madhya Pradesh namely Barari, Richhan, Neemkheda and Kesari.Annual irrigation to an area of 47000 ha enroute of the Ken-Betwa link where the level of irrigation is less than 30% of the Culturable area.
  • Annual irrigation to an area of 3.23 lakh ha (C.C.A. 2.41 lakh ha) as envisaged under “Ken Multi-purpose Project” earlier proposed by Madhya Pradesh State Government.
    A provision of 11.75 Mm3 for drinking water supply to the villages and towns enroute of the link canal. This would cater to the needs of about 3.3 lakh people at a rate of consumption of 100 lpcd.
  • The canal is designed as a trapezoidal section with rounded corners and lined for the entire length. The full supply depth and bed width of the canal at its head are 3.56 m and 12 m respectively with 1 in 10,000 bed slope.
  • The command envisaged in the earlier proposed Ken Multipurpose Project (KMPP) by Madhya Pradesh State Government is also to be irrigated from this project. Apart from drinking water facility & enroute irrigation of 47000 ha in Chhatarpur and Tikamgarh districts of Madhya Pradesh and Hamirpur & Jhansi districts of Uttar Pradesh, provision for downstream commitments of 1375 Mm3 for M.P. and 850 Mm3 of water for U.P. has also been kept.
  • The total cost of the link project has been estimated as Rs. 1988.74 crore (1994-95 price level) comprising Rs. 991.07 crore for Main Project (Unit-I: Head works Rs. 367.92 crore, Unit-II: Canals Rs. 572.44 crore and Unit-III: Power Rs. 50.72 crore). The cost of canal system is Rs. 554.11 crore for Ken command (i.e. KMPP) and the estimated cost of four projects is Rs. 443.55 crore for Betwa command. The schedule of construction of the link project is planned for a period of 9 years including pre-construction year.
  • The annual benefits from the project are estimated to be in the order of Rs. 449.79 crore(1994-95 price level).The Benefit-Cost ratio for the Ken-Betwa link project as a whole has been computed based on the corresponding annual costs and annual benefits from this project, which comes to 1.87. The internal rate of return (I.R.R.) of the project works out to 13.00%.

    Source:National Water Development Agency (NWDA)
  • This inter-State project was pushed by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee headed National Democratic Alliance (NDA). It was in 2013 that the Supreme Court turned down a petition challenging this project. Last month, the National Water Development Agency (NWDA) submitted a  revised environment impact assessment (EIA) report for clearance by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and climate change.