Is there an alternative to the Ken-Betwa project?, wonders Dr. Brij Gopal, Coordinator, Centre for Inland Waters in South Asia, in an open letter to Uma Bharti, Minister for Water Resources. Text:
I greatly admire your sincere and deep concern for the rivers in India, and particularly for Mother Ganga, as well as for the people of Bundelkhand. Your struggle for providing water to the people of drought prone areas of Bundelkhand for irrigation and drinking is commendable. I can very well understand and appreciate the miserable situation in the region, especially districts of Panna and Chhatarpur, where I have lived myself since 2010 and surveyed it (including Mahoba and Banda) extensively. I have myself experienced the droughts of 2014 and 2015 there. By May and June 2016, the entire river Ken had dried completely exposing the rocky bottom everywhere except in the deep gorges. Heavy rains of 2016 saved it from extinction.
The proposed Ken-Betwa River Linking Project has been designed to provide irrigation and drinking water to Chhatarpur and Tikamgarh areas along the canal, besides benefitting the areas in the upper Betwa basin through substitution in lower Betwa from the Ken. And there will be 72 MW of electricity also generated. There can be no better Karma (deed) for a common person, and Dharma for the Ruler, than giving food to the hungry and water to the thirsty. The project combines these two deeds and promises to fulfil the two needs of people in parts of Bundelkhand.
However, I am greatly worried like you over the scheduling of the project. When shall the people of Bundelkhand get water? I appeal to you to kindly examine the facts below:
The project for providing water to Chhatarpur, Panna and other areas was planned as KMPP in 1982. The NWDA modifed the proposal several times until the Feasibility Report for K-B Link project was prepared in 1995 based on 1992-93 survey. It formed the basis of MOU between the two States – MP and UP – after another 10 years in 2005. The DPR preparation was started only in 2006. Its approval took several years and in 2010, the project was divided into Phase I and II. The estimated cost of the project increased from less than Rs 2000 crores in 1995 to about Rs 10000 crores in 2008 (for Phase I alone). It took 4 years to prepare an EIA report and the project is yet to receive all mandatory clearances. We are not sure when the project work will start.
The project construction is estimated to take 9 years, and the usual delays/ period over-runs may force the project to take 15 years. The project cost is likely to exceed Rs 18000 crores at the current estimates, and the costs will certainly escalate over the next decade.
The people of Bundelkhand have dreamed of water in their homes and fields for over 35 years by now. They know they have to wait for at least another 10-15 years. One whole generation has already suffered without water and many have left homes. Train loads of people leave the area almost every day for labour work near Delhi.
The climate is changing rapidly; the frequency of droughts has already increased and rainfall is declining sharply. All projections for climate change by the government agencies show that the area will receive lesser rain in years to come until 2030 and 2050. We may expect the K-B link project to be completed by 2030 but shall there be enough rain to fill the 78 m high dam? Who will be held responsible for the colossal waste of time and money, if the expectations are not met due to climate change?
BUT the main question is why should we wait for another 10-15 years to provide relief to the people? Do the people have faith in the government agencies to deliver what they have been promising for more than 30 years? ARE THERE NO ALTERNATIVES? Can we not take some action which takes only a few months or a year to ensure water security at a reasonable cost and in a manner that the communities can manage the water resource themselves??
Your Ministry has formulated a scheme of Repair, Renovation & Restoration (RRR) of water bodies with both domestic support and external assistance. Your Ministry’s website says that the Ministry will provide domestic support to cover “about one lakh water bodies having a CCA of 9 lakh ha. at a cost of Rs. 4,000 crore” whereas World Bank Assistance in TamilNadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Orissa will cover 8.22 lakh ha at a cost of Rs 3734 crores. Then, why waste Rs 18,000 crores on KB Link to irrigate another 3-4 lakh hectares?
There are several thousand historical tanks in Chhatarpur, Panna, Mahoba and other districts that require renovation and can fully meet the needs of irrigation besides providing many other benefits. Thousands of farm ponds can be created in no time with minimal subsidies, owned and managed by the farmers or local communities. This will help improve agricultural productivity, ensure water security, save energy, improve incomes and reduce government subsidies on fertilizers, as recently done in Telangana.
When such a viable, economically efficient alternative can bring benefits to the people within a year or two, and laurels to your Ministry and the Government, why pursue a costly project riddled with uncertainties and unpredictable costs to nature?
I have known your commitment to rivers and water and for drastic policy level changes in the interest of sustainable Integrated Water Resources Management in the country. The proposed National Water Framework Bill 2016 is an example of your vision. Therefore, I hope that you will not only consider the above note in its right spirit but also would NOT hesitate to take a bold decision to ensure that the water needs of the Bundelkhand are met fully before a dry spell – may be next year – reminds us of the golden dream we had for decades and may never come true in future, courtesy climate change.