THE KEN-BETWA BATTLEGROUND
India Today|April 12, 2021
On March 22, World Water Day, the Centre inked a tripartite agreement with the governments of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh to push forward work on the Ken-Betwa River Link (KBRL) project.
Rahul Noronha

Among other infrastructure, this entails the construction of a 2-km-long dam on the Ken river at Daudhan village in Madhya Pradesh’s Chhatarpur district. The water from the created reservoir will then be transferred via canal to the Betwa river basin in Uttar Pradesh.

The project was originally conceived in 1980, under what was then the Centre’s National Perspective Plan to transfer water from surplus regions to deficit areas via river-linking projects. To be built at a cost of about Rs 35,111 crore, it is expected to provide irrigation and drinking water to 13 districts across Madhya Pradesh (Raisen, Vidisha, Sagar, Panna, Chhatarpur, Shivpuri, Tikamgarh, Datia and Damoh) and Uttar Pradesh (Jhansi, Mahoba, Lalitpur and Banda). The Centre will bear 90 per cent of the cost, with the states putting up the rest. According to the Jal Shakti ministry, the project will supply irrigation to 1.06 million hectares, drinking water to 6.2 million people and 103 MW of hydroelectric power. However, it will also cause extensive environmental damage. According to a reply in Parliament by minister of state Rattan Lal Kataria, it will submerge 6,017 hectares of forests, of which 4,206 hectares lie within the Panna Tiger Reserve.

The agreement signed on March 22 seems to turn the page on some of the problems that have dogged this project since it began, such as disagreements between Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh on water-sharing. However, environmental concerns and decades-old protests on those grounds seem to have been ignored. Activists say the battle is far from over, pointing out that major clearances are yet to be granted.

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