From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Ken-Betwa Interlinking Project
Mains level : River interlinking and associated issues
The Union Cabinet has approved the funding and implementation of the Ken-Betwa river interlinking project at the 2020-21 price level.
Ken-Betwa Interlinking Project
- The Ken-Betwa Link Project is the first project under the National Perspective Plan for the interlinking of rivers.
- Under this project, water from the Ken River will be transferred to the Betwa River. Both these rivers are tributaries of the river Yamuna.
- The project is being managed by India’s National Water Development Agency (NWDA), under the Ministry of Jal Shakti.
- Implementation of the project
- Phase-I: Daudhan dam complex and its appurtenances like Low Level Tunnel, High Level Tunnel, Ken-Betwa link canal and Power houses
- Phase-II: Lower Orr dam, Bina complex project and Kotha Barrage
Utility of the Project
- Irrigation: The project is slated to irrigate 10.62 lakh hectares annually, provide drinking water supply to 62 lakh people and generate 103 MW of hydropower and 27 MW of solar power.
- Water supply: The project will be of immense benefit to the water-starved Bundelkhand region, spread across Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.
- Agricultural boost: The project is expected to boost socio-economic prosperity in the backward Bundelkhand region on account of increased agricultural activities and employment generation.
- Addressing Rural Distress: It would also help in arresting distress migration from this region.
- Submergence of critical wildlife habitat: The project will partly submerge the Panna Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh and affect the habitat of vultures and jackals.
- Clearance: After years of protests, it was finally cleared by the apex wildlife regulator, the National Board for Wildlife, in 2016.
- Water sharing disputes: Then UP and MP could not agree on how water would be shared, particularly in the non-monsoonal months.
Back2Basics: River Interlinking in India
- 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.
- 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 Central Water Commission, which examined the proposal, found it to be grossly under estimated and economically prohibitive.
Capt. Dastur Proposal (1977)
It envisaged the construction of two canals:
- 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
- 9300 km Garland Canal covering the central and southern parts
Beginning of implementation
- The Indian Rivers Inter-link aims to link India’s rivers by a network of reservoirs and canals and so reduce persistent floods in some parts and water shortages in other parts of India.
- The idea to link rivers got a shot in the arm with the establishment of the National Water Development Agency in 1982 by then PM Indira Gandhi.
- The Inter-link project was split into three parts:
- Northern Himalayan rivers inter-link component
- Southern Peninsular component
- Intrastate rivers linking component
Objectives of inter-linking
- Connect the Himalayan and peninsular rivers via a network of canals so that
- Excess water from one channel can be diverted to another which has an inadequate flow
- Flood moderation in the Ganga-Brahmaputra system
- Hydropower generation through excess water
Prospects of River inter-linking
- Engineering challenges: This is one of the most daring feats of engineering attempted in the history of mankind.
- Ecosystem challenges: It is a reimagining of the entire aquatic ecosystem of a country as large and diverse as India.
Advantages offered by river inter-linking
- Flood control and mitigation: Problems related to flood control, irrigation, limiting droughts and boosting farm output—can be sorted out by linking the country’s rivers.
- Economic boost: Potential benefits to transport infrastructure through navigation, as well as to broadening income sources in rural areas through fish farming.
Issues with such projects
- Migration: It will lead to massive displacement of people
- Topography change: Since the Ganga basin topography is flat, building dams would not substantially add to river flows.
- Inundation: The transfer of such enormous amounts of water will inundate forests and land for reservoirs.
- Seismic hazards: The weight of billions of liters of water can have seismic implications in the Himalayan region.
- Financial expense: River inter-linking is an expensive business from building the link canals to the monitoring and maintenance infrastructure.
- Political will: Implementation of the project not only needs a huge financial capital but also political support both is scarce commodities as of now.
- Consensus building for land acquisition: Another important issue is building consensus among states and Land acquisition.
- Ecological feasibility: Once the project is implemented it would lead to large-scale displacement of people and animals.
Criticisms of such projects
- Bad Science: Such projects are built on bad science and an outdated understanding of water systems and water management.
- Human determinism: Such projects go in contravention with natural process thereby generating more scope for threat than any opportunity.