Just when it seemed that the Ken-Betwa river linking project was finally ready for take-off, following the forest approval it managed to get two months ago, comes the most serious hurdle that it has faced so far — objection from the Madhya Pradesh government.
The Shivraj Singh Chouhan government in Bhopal is learnt to have told the Centre that it would not allow work to begin if the showpiece project was not modified to include three smaller water management projects that the state wants to develop. These three projects — Kotha Barrage, Bina Complex and Lower Orr dam — were to become the second phase of the Ken-Betwa link, but the state government is now insisting that they be made part of the original project itself, a demand that the Centre is finding difficult to agree to because of more than one reason.
Inclusion of the three projects would likely invite fresh environment, forest and wildlife assessments for the entire plan. Besides delaying the project further, a reassessment will make its fate entirely uncertain.
The inclusions are also beyond the scope of the 2005 MoU between Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh over sharing of waters from this project. Additionally, while the Centre has agreed to provide 90 per cent of the funds for the original project under a special consideration, the three additional projects do not qualify for this generosity. Besides, the three projects are far from being ready for implementation. Even their detailed project reports have not been approved.
Ken-Betwa link, which seeks to join the Ken and Betwa rivers in Madhya Pradesh, is the first of an ambitious river-interlinking programme that seeks to ensure transfer of waters from water surplus regions to water-deficient ones. Though conceptualised in the 1980s, the river-linking programme has been unable to take off due to technical challenges and opposition from several quarters on different grounds. Altogether, 31 such linkages have been identified.
Minister of State for Water Resources Sanjeev Balyan, in a reply to a written question in Lok Sabha, admitted on Thursday that the Ken-Betwa link was facing a fresh round of uncertainty.
“The Government of Madhya Pradesh has proposed that Kotha Barrage, Bina Complex and Lower Orr Dam be also included in the Project… This would also affect the initial allocation of water between the two states (MP and UP) as per the 2005 agreement. It was, therefore, decided that both the state governments should work out an agreement on mutual water sharing to take KBLP (Ken-Betwa Link Project) forward. The implementation of KBLP would be taken up once the two states have reached an agreement on water sharing,” Balyan said.