Madhya Pradesh will literally pay a huge price for the Ken-Betwa river linking project but neighbouring Uttar Pradesh will gain the most from this ambitious plan.
The project envisages transferring water from the Ken to the Betwa through a 231.45 km-long canal, a controversial project pulled out of cold storage by the Narendra Modi government.
Madhya Pradesh will bear the brunt of project in terms of submergence, reduction in volume of water, displacement of population and loss of wildlife habitat.
In October 2005, while the project was under active consideration, the then district magistrate (DM) of Panna Deepali Rastogi had written to the principal secretary, water resources department (WRD) flagging certain proposals contained in the project.
In the letter, the DM had said that while 87% of the Ken river flows through Panna district, presently there are no large dams on the upper and middle reaches of the river that could have tapped its potential for benefit of the district.
The river link project doesn’t propose any dams on these sections either. Moreover, the DM said that transferring water from the Ken to the deficient Betwa would only reduce the water available in Ken that would have been used for Panna district.
Panna district is one of the most deficient in the state with only 5 % of the area being irrigated by government-created sources.
In reply, the WRD had clarified that the right bank canal (RBC) of the Bariyarpur reservoir would provide water to Ajaigarh block of Panna district.
However, the WRD has since shelved the RBC of the Bariyarpur reservoir.
The WRD said that the proposed Daudhan dam under the river linking project will irrigate about 29,726 hectares in Panna district.
In another letter, the DM had pointed out that the submergence area of the proposed dam at Daudhan under the project would lie in Panna district but the benefits in the form of water would be for areas north of the dam, that is, to some parts of Chatarpur district and mainly Uttar Pradesh.
The DM had demanded that the project be revisited and changes be made so that the vast untapped potential of the Ken river be utilised.
The letter had also raised concerns about submergence of parts of the Panna tiger reserve and the loss to tourism as a consequence.
Sources in the WRD said that the only hope for MP is that the transfer of water in Betwa will create opportunities for dams in Tikamgarh, Vidisha and Raisen districts.
“UP will get all the benefits from the project while the costs will be borne by MP. With stronger political influence, UP has traditionally reaped all the benefits of rivers and it only now that the WRD in MP has started asserting itself,” said a senior official of the WRD.