The Union Cabinet on Wednesday approved the funding and implementation of the project for interlinking of rivers Ken and Betwa at a cost of Rs 44,605 crore, a move criticised by experts as the approval came without the statutory clearances.
“The total cost of Ken-Betwa project has been assessed at Rs 44,605 crore at 2020-21 price level. The Union cabinet has approved the central support of Rs 39,317 crore for the project, covering grant of Rs 36,290 crore and loan of Rs 3,027 crore,” a statement after the Cabinet meeting said.
“A Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) called Ken-Betwa Link Project Authority (KBLPA) is to be set up for implementation of the project,” it said.
The project involves transfer of water from the Ken to the Betwa river through the construction of Daudhan dam and a canal linking the two rivers, the Lower Orr project, Kotha Barrage, and Bina complex multipurpose project. The project will provide an annual irrigation of 10.62 lakh Ha, drinking water supply to a population of about 62 lakhs, and also generate 103 MW of hydropower and 27 MW solar power.
Earlier in the year, a tripartite agreement between the Ministry of Jal Shakti and Chief Ministers of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh was signed on March 22 for this first major centrally driven interlinking of rivers project.
Stating that the project will be of immense benefit to the water starved Bundelkhand region, spread across the states of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, the statement said: “This project will provide enormous benefits to the districts of Panna, Tikamgarh, Chhatarpur, Sagar, Damoh, Datia, Vidisha, Shivpuri, and Raisen districts of Madhya Pradesh and Banda, Mahoba, Jhansi, and Lalitpur of Uttar Pradesh.”
“The project is expected to boost the socio-economic prosperity in the backward Bundelkhand region on account of increased agricultural activities and employment generation. It would also help in arresting distress migration from this region,” it added.
Senior officials from the Ministry, who did not wish to be quoted, said the approval came ahead of the Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh.
“The Cabinet nod was necessary as once the Election Commission declares the polls – which is due early next year – then no such announcement would be possible,” officials said, adding, “This announcement regarding the project would also come handy during election campaigns for the ruling party.”
The project also comprehensively provides for environment management and safeguards. “For this purpose, a comprehensive landscape management plan is under finalisation by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII),” the statement said.
Criticising that the approval came when the comprehensive landscape management plan is still underway, Himanshu Thakkar of South Asia Network for Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) also pointed out how the Cabinet gave approval to a project that has not obtained three major statutory clearances.
“The environmental clearance was challenged and is pending at the National Green Tribunal (NGT), the stage II (final) Forest Clearance and subsequent state approval, in this case from the Madhya Pradesh government, is pending. And last, but never the least, the Central Empowered Committee, appointed by the Supreme Court, has submitted the report to the apex court with its objections to the wildlife clearance… the court is yet to give its say on it,” he said.
The Ministry of Jal Shakti is also likely to announce the National Interlinking of Rivers Authority (NIRA), which was suggested by the sub-committee for restructuring of the National Water Development Agency (NWDA). NWDA is an agency and with restructuring, an ‘Authority’ with powers is envisaged.
NIRA would be an overarching body, autonomous in functions for planning and would act as the nodal body for the projects related to interlinking of rivers across the country. There would be a special purpose vehicle (SPV) for each of the interlinking projects.
“For the SPV to materialise, agreements amongst the states involved is a must. As on date, we only have an agreement between Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh vis-a-vis Ken Betwa project. So, the SPV for Ken Betwa project came first,” a Ministry official said.