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River Linking Project November 18, 2003
By Vandana Shiva
The Indian river linking project of Rs. 560,000 crore ($200b) has now
been elevated to the level of a creation myth by referring to it as
"Amrit Kranti", invoking the imagery of Sagar Manthan - the creation
story of Indian mythology in which the gods and demons churned the
ocean which led to the separation of the "amrit" (nectar) from the
"Vish" (poison). This is the symbolism with which the project is
referred to in the new brochure produced by the Task Force on
Interlinking of Rivers.
It was also the metaphor used by Shri Suresh Prabhu, Chairman of the
Task Force, at the C.I.I. organized meeting "Interlinking Rivers: A
win-win situation" on October 29, 2003. While mythic imagery is being
used to promote the project, the debate on River Linking has been
presented as emotion vs science -- those raising ecological and
social issues are defined as "emotional" and they have to be
convinced by the "science" of river linking.
However, the river linking project seems to be based on pseudo
science, not science.
The flawed science becomes evident in the first link that is to be
implemented in the River Linking Project -- the Ken-Betwa link, in
the Bundelkhand region of U.P. and M.P.
At his speech on Independence Day, August 15, 2003, from the
historical Red Fort in Delhi, the Prime Minister promised that the
ambitious project to link all major rivers of the country will start
by the end of this year. While the first project will link the Ken
and Betwa rivers in Madhya Pradesh, the second will connect the
Parvati, Kalisindh and Chambal rivers in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.
The prioritisation of the Ken-Betwa link was also reiterated by
Suresh Prabhu at the CII meeting on river linking.
The Research Foundation for Science, Technology and ecology has
carried out an assessment of the Ken-Betwa link-- on hydrological,
ecological and social criteria. This case study provides a framework
for assessments of other river links.
The myth of "Surplus Waters"
At the core of the science of river linking is the idea that water
will be diverted from "surplus" rivers to "deficit" rivers, thus
ameliorating floods and drought and improving food security by
creation of new irrigation facilities. However, in the case of the
Ken-Betwa link none of these assumptions hold.
Ken is the smaller of the two rivers. Water is being diverted from
the basin draining 5344 MCM to a larger basin draining 9130 MCM. On
what criteria is the smaller river surplus and the larger river
deficit? The criteria is clearly not based on science and ecology.
The "surplus" basin is a river system which has been used
sustainably. The "deficit" basin is one in which water resources have
been used non-sustainably, and the demand has been allowed to
outstrip sustainable supply. It would therefore be more accurate to
refer to sustainable and non-sustainable water use in river basins,
rather than surplus and deficit rivers.
In any case, the assessment of "surplus" waters in Ken river
available for diversion to Betwa is scientifically flawed. The
Ken-Betwa project is based on diverting 1020 MCM of water from the
Ken river to the Betwa river. However, according to Madhya Pradesh
Government's comment on the National Water Development Agency report
of 1995 on the feasibility report of Ken-Betwa link, "the next
quantity of water from Ken Basin to Betwa Basin is 342 MCM only.....
Hence, it is recommended that Ken-Betwa link project may be dropped".
A project that the government itself recommended be dropped has
suddenly became the priority scheme in the new "Amrit Kranti" of
The primary benefit of the project is claimed to be reduction of
floods and drought and increased irrigation. However, both Ken and
Betwa arise in the Vindhyachal range. When one river is in flood the
other is in flood. When one basin experiences drought, the other
experiences drought. Therefore, the claim of reducing flood and
drought impact does not hold. Floods will in fact actually increase
by adding more water to the Betwa which already affects Hamirpur
district with the highest food occurrence in Bundelkhand. 360201 ha
land, 262337 persons and 160 villages in Hamirpur are flood prone.
Adding more water to the Betwa basin will increase the flood
proneness of these villages.
The river link will also increase drought in the Ken basin. Banda
district experiences scarcity of water in summer season due to
decrease in the level of water in Ken river which is the main source
of drinking water and irrigation in the district. The diversion will
also drain water from indigenous water systems including Sarori Tal,
Gora Tal and Gajadhar Tal in Naugaon village, Sukh Sagar in
Maharajpur, Kotra Tal and Dhanera Tal in Palera, Nandsagar in
Isanagar, Bahast Tal in Jatara. These water systems were built by the
Bundelas and have had a major role in drought proofing in the
The only benefit of the river link is to provide water to 4 dam
projects in the Betwa basin which have been rendered infeasible due
to non-availability of water. These failed dam projects are Barari,
Neemkheda, Richwan and Kesuri dams.
These failed dams are the "target command" of the Ken-Betwa link. As
the project report states "With the transfer of water form Ken to
Betwa river these four projects of the upper Betwa basin can be taken
up. Otherwise these projects cannot be implemented due to shortage of
water in Betwa Basin". Instead of shelving projects for which water
is not available, these non-sustainable projects are being made
artificially viable by rendering the Ken basin ecologically and
The ecological costs of the river link
The Ken-Betwa link involves building a dam on Daudhan on Ken river,
and diverting the water to Betwa. The Ken-Betwa link project which is
a diversion cum storage comprises of :
A 73.40 m high and 1468m long earth dam access river Ken near Dandhan village
A 326 m long side channel spill way on left flank.
An underground powerhouse with 3.20 MW installed capacity
A powerhouse at the end of the 2km tunnel with 2.6 MW installed capacity.
A 231.45 km long canal for transferring water from Ken river to River Betwa.
The construction of the proposed dam at Daudhan village in Chattarpur
district of M.P. will lead to submergence of 17419.75 ha land and
1056 families will be uprooted. There is no cost estimate for
resettlement of these villages. Displacement issues are addressed in
only 4 lines in the entire feasibility report. "As the entire
submergence area lies in Madhya Pradesh, a majority of the oustees
will be settled in Madhya Pradesh. However, it is proposed that some
of them may be settled in Uttar Pradesh since Uttar Pradesh is also
one of the beneficiaries of the project".
The Daudhan dam is situated in the Panna National Park, and will have
a severe impact on wildlife and biodiversity. Panna is the twenty
second Tiger Reserve of India and fifth in the State of Madhya
Pradesh. It is situated in the Vindhya Ranges and spread over Panna
and Chattarpur districts in the North of the State. The Ken River
which flows through the Reserve is a home for Gharial and Magar and
other aquatic fauna.
About 200 species of birds have been identified in the park. Besides
tigers, the park has Leopards, Sloth bear, Wolf, Wild dog, Wild boar,
Hyena, Sambhar, Cheetal, Neelgar, Chausnigha, Porcupine, Jungle Cat.
Many of these species are endangered species. While posing a severe
threat to endangered species, the M.P. Government's comment on the
feasibility report carelessly states:
The impact of the project on the wild life will be nil, as the wild
life has got the natural characteristic of shifting to forest areas
adjacent to the project area.
The project will also lead to severe erosion of agricultural
biodiversity. Existing crop diversity in the Ken and Betwa basins and
along the proposed canal include Kodikutke, jowar, urad, arhar,
oilseeds, wheat. In the Betwa basin 48.52% is under high value
rainfed wheat and 26.9% under pulses. The indigenous wheats of
Bundelkhand sell at twice the value of Green Revolution varieties.
And Bundlekhand is one of the remaining pockets of pulses production.
The project envisages a shift from these high value water prudent
crops to low value water intensive crops such as paddy, sugarcane and
Thus the project will erode biodiversity and lead to non-sustainable
water use. Water wasteful agriculture is the most important factor in
non-sustainable water use. Instead of promoting conservation of
biodiversity and water, the project promotes water waste and
destruction of biodiversity in one of the last remaining pockets of
At a time when conservation should guide water resource planning, an
obsolete paradigm of non-sustainable water use and water management
is being pushed through the river linking project. The real "Amrit
Kranti" needs support to biodiversity and water conservation, organic
farming, and rejuvenation of rivers and groundwater. The pseudo
science of river linking needs to give way to the science of living
sustainably with our water systems. Going further to tap more distant
rivers will not convert non-sustainable use to sustainable use. It
will merely expand the scope of non-sustainability.
The Ken-Betwa link will also increase conflicts over rivers. U.P. and
M.P. already have a number of water disputes. Of the 10 water
conflicts, 2 are over Betwa river waters, 2 are over Ken river
waters, 1 over Yamuna and one each over Banne and Urmil rivers.
People's voice: The Water Parliament on Ken-Betwa
Peace and prosperity through water can only be achieved through
sustainability and democracy. That is why on the basis of its study
the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology had
organized a "Water Parliament" on the Ken-Betwa link at Orchha on
July 23, 2003, the birth anniversary of Chandra Shekhar Azad, a
freedom fighter. The people of Bundelkhand passed the following
resolution at the Water Parliament -
"The residents of the district of Hamirpur are of the opinion that
the proposed link will further worsen the flood situation in the
flood prone districts of the Bundelkhand region as most of the rivers
are flooded in the rainy season.
According to farmers of Banda, the project will catalyse the drought
in the region as the already existing dams on Ken and Betwa rivers
get dried during the summer season.
In the opinion of farmers of the region the proposed cropping pattern
will result into diminishing of the traditional crops having high
nutritious value. According to them these are being grown in the
region for ages.
The natives of the villages which will be subjected to submergence
due to the linking of Ken and Betwa rivers are not ready to leave
their fertile land for any compensation offered to them by the
Government. According to them their land is highly fertile and the
value of this land cannot be estimated. It is invaluable for them.
Ecologically and economically, the cost of the project will outweigh
the benefits. We therefore call on the government not to rush ahead
with this destructive project and instead invite the people of
Bundlekhand to prepare and participate in a sustainable and equitable
water plan for the region."