The making of a disaster
RAINFALL over Indian peninsula varies widely from 300 mm in Rajsthan to over 3500mm in the Arunachal Pradesh annually. However, the average rainfalls on major river basins are, the Brahmaputra 2500 mm, the Barak 2300 mm, the Ganga 1500 mm, the Narmada 1000 mm, the Godavari 1100 mm, the Krishna 800 mm and the Cavery 1000 mm. The Sabarmati basin in Gujrat has 900 mm annual rainfall and the Luni basin in western Thar Desert has average annual rainfall less than 300 mm. India plans to divert the waters of Brahmaputra River to the western Thar Desert, and to the drought prone Southern India. But Bangladesh lying on the downstream of the Brahmaputra River, fears its ecology shall be severely affected, if water from this basin is withdrawn.
After partition India and Pakistan embroiled in dispute over sharing waters of the Indus and Ganga Rivers. The Indus Waters Treaty was signed in 1960, between India and Pakistan. But due the political turmoil, sharing of the Ganga waters remained unresolved until 1977. Dr K.L. Rao, ex Water Resources Minister of India in the fifties, proposed the Ganga- Cavery Link in 1972. This would transfer over 1400 Cubic Meter/sec water from Ganga to the south. This proposal was abandoned because of financial reasons. India completed the Farakka Barrage in 1975, and took total control over the Ganga River flows towards Bangladesh. The Indian government in eighties proposed a link canal from the Brahmaputra River to the upstream of the Farakka Barrage. This canal would pass through the Bangladesh territory, with aim at augmentation of the Ganga water in India. Bangladesh rejected this proposal as unacceptable, as it would affect major human displacement, huge land loss, and colossal damage to the estuarine and marine environment, towards the mouth of Brahmaputra River.
The proposal for interlinking rivers in India resurfaced after the Bharatia Janata Party gained power in the centre, winning the Lokshabha election of 1999. This time, the proposal was very particular, to transfer the excess water from the north eastern Indian states to the drought hit Thar Desert, and the southern states of India. The proposal gained momentum as it got support of the Hinduttva lobby, in the Indian government, and the intellectuals from Rajsthan, Gujrat and South India. The Supreme Court of India in February, 2012 directed the Centre to implement the interlinking of rivers project in a time bound manner and appointed a high powered committee for its planning and implementation.
According to the Times of India (02.01.2014), the Ken-Betwa river link is one of the 30 inter-linking projects to be green lighted by the Supreme Court committee, following a tripartite memorandum of understanding signed between the water resources ministry and chief ministers of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Indian Water Resources Minister Harish Rawat claimed that, on completion of all 30 projects, water will be available for irrigating 35 million hectares, generate hydro electricity to the tune of 34,000 MW and control floods in many states. Since all the related matters including environmental issues have already been resolved, for the
Ken-Betwa and couple of more projects, the move will see beginning of actual works on the ground for linking Ken and Betwa rivers in early 2014.
The Ken Betwa Project envisages a 73.80 m high Daudhan dam across the Ken, about 2.5 km upstream of the Gangau Weir in Madhya Pradesh. Two powerhouses, one at the foot of the dam and other at the end of a 2-km tunnel, are also proposed. The project shall link the Ken and Betwa rivers by a 231.45-km concrete-lined canal to divert 1020 MCM of water. The diverted water shall irrigate 3.7 lac ha land, support water supply and augment the flow of the Betwa River to the tune of 659 MCM. The dam at Daudhan shall store 2775 MCM water, and shall produce 72 MW power in total.
But some experts oppose the project and say, the Ken has no excess water. Professor Krishna Gandhi of Abhiruchi, an NGO related to environmental issues said, 'it is stupid and silly'. He said, 'big dams never helped people. They only promoted corruption and resulted in displacement of people' (The Hindu, 14.02.2012). V K Joshi, former regional director of the Geological Survey of India commented earlier that, it will damage the ecosystems of both the rivers. Thakkar and Chaturbedi (2006) criticized the project for inadequate water balance studies and said, not enough benefit to arrive to outweigh the cost. The cost of the project was Rs 4500 cr (Business Line 2005).
The Ken Betwa Interlinking Project appears to be a disaster in the making. A large area of the Panna Tiger Reserve forest shall go under water of the Daudhan Reservoir. Eminent human rights activists Medha Patkar and environmentalist Vandana Shiva condemned the project calling it a recipe for ecological disaster. It will force people out of their homes. The author of this article observes that, the project cannot deliver the planned amount of water to the Betwa River due to scarcity in the Ken basin. In that case, most of the structures to be built by costing money, people's eviction and land loss shall lie unutilized. The Ken River water has storage at Gangau Weir. The additional storage of the Daudhan Dam shall leave the Ken River downstream totally dry. Due to high potential evapo-transpiration in the area (1630mm at Panna), more reservoirs and more irrigation systems shall lead to more loss of water. As a result, the accumulated flow in the Ganga River further downstream shall also go down.
The Ken Betwa Link Project under the Rivers Interlinking Project of India should be opposed by the people of Bangladesh and India together. The Helsinki rules on the uses of the waters of international rivers, 1966, and the UN water convention of the non-navigational uses of international watercourses, 1997 opposes transfer of water from one basin to another.
The writer is Chairman, Institute of Water & Environment
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