The Ken-Betwa River Link Project : Daily Current Affairs

Date: 23/01/2023

Relevance: GS-3: Different Types of Irrigation and Irrigation Systems; Conservation, Environmental Pollution and Degradation, Environmental Impact Assessment; Major Crops - Cropping Patterns in various parts of the country.

Key Phrases: Ken-Betwa Link Project (KBLP), Bundelkhand region, National Green Tribunal, Chandel-period lakes, Panna Tiger Landscape.


  • Recently, the Steering Committee of the Ken-Betwa Link Project (KBLP) held its third meeting in New Delhi.

Background of River Interlinking:

  • In 2002, the then President of India Abdul Kalam mentioned the river linking project during a speech.
  • He proposed it as a solution to India's water woes after which an application requesting an order from the Supreme Court on that matter was submitted.
  • The application was converted into a writ petition and finally, in October 2002, the Supreme Court ordered the Central Government to initiate work on inter-linking the major rivers of the country.

What is the Ken-Betwa Link?

  • In December 2021, the Union Cabinet approved KBLP at a total cost of Rs 44,605 crore.
  • In this project, the national and the Madhya Pradesh governments will link the Ken river with the Betwa river so that the latter can water the Bundelkhand region in Uttar Pradesh.
  • The link will be in the form of a canal that will be fed by the new Daudhan Dam on the Ken, to be built within Panna Tiger Reserve.
  • The linking canal will flow through Chhatarpur, Tikamgarh and Jhansi districts, with the project expected to irrigate 6.3 lakh hectares of land every year.

National River Linking Project:

  • The National River Linking Project (NRLP) formally known as the National Perspective Plan, envisages the transfer of water from water ‘surplus’ basins where there is flooding to water ‘deficit’ basins where there is drought/scarcity, through inter-basin water transfer projects.
  • The term 'surplus' means it is the extra water available in a river after it meets the humans’ requirement of irrigation, domestic consumption and industries thereby underestimating the need of the water for the river itself.
  • The term 'deficit' has also been viewed in terms of humans only and not from the river's perspective, which includes many other factors.
  • The National River Interlinking Project will comprise of 30 links to connect 37 rivers across the nation through a network of nearly 3000 storage dams to form a gigantic South Asian Water Grid.
  • It includes two components:
  • Himalayan Rivers Development Component:
    • Under this 14 links have been identified.
    • This component aims to construct storage reservoirs on the Ganga and Brahmaputra rivers, as well as their tributaries in India and Nepal.
    • The aim is to conserve monsoon flows for irrigation and hydropower generation, along with flood control.
    • The linkage will transfer surplus flows of the Kosi, Gandak and Ghagra to the west.
    • A link between the Ganga and Yamuna is also proposed to transfer the surplus water to drought-prone areas of Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat.
  • Peninsular Rivers Development Component or the Southern Water Grid:
    • It includes 16 links that propose to connect the rivers of South India.
    • It envisages linking the Mahanadi and Godavari to feed the Krishna, Pennar, Cauvery, and Vaigai rivers.

Benefits of this project:

  • The project will be of immense benefit to the water-starved region of Bundelkhand.
  • Serve the needs drinking water of 62 lakh people in the region.
  • There is a hydropower component to this project as well which will generate 103 MW of electricity.
  • 27 MW solar power plant is also proposed.

Key Concerns:

  1. Concerns of Hydrological and Ecological experts:
    • Hydrological and ecological experts aren’t convinced, mainly because the government’s plan is based on a ‘surplus and deficit’ model that they have said has little basis in science.
    • They are also concerned that the project will endanger the water security of Panna.
  2. Legal Problems:
    • Approval by the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife to the Ken-Betwa link Project has not been proved to be necessary for the improvement and better management of the wildlife therein as provided in Section 35(6) of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
    • The project is also reportedly still to receive full forest clearance.
    • A challenge to its environment approval is also pending before the National Green Tribunal.
  3. Effect on Panna Tigers Reserve
    • Panna is exceptional tiger habitat because of its deep gorges, which will be drowned if the new dam is built.
    • An illegal approval granted by a national board will bring to naught all the good, hard work of the past.
    • The government is also developing a larger ‘Panna Tiger Landscape’, but this is not the concession many believe it to be.
  4. Not Enough Water in Ken
    • There may not even be enough water in the Ken, a non-perennial river, to meet the projected needs of the Betwa – forget the needs of the Bundelkhand region.

Way Forward:

  • Independent hydrological investigation: There should be an “independent” hydrological investigation of the Ken. Older reports by state agencies had thrown up different, and hence unreliable, projections.
  • Restoration of Chandel-period lakes: It will be more economical and faster if the governments restored Bunderlkhand’s erstwhile Chandel-period lakes and ponds and if they replicated the successful field-pond schemes on priority.
  • The region is already blessed with adequate annual rainfall.


  • Although it will pave the way for more interlinking of river projects to ensure that scarcity of water does not become an inhibitor for development in the country.
  • It is necessary to revisit and address the many concerns that perhaps the feasibility studies may have missed.
  • Selecting high-value crops that can increase the net value of crop production benefits at a rate higher than the increase in consumptive water use.
  • The project may intensify water conflicts between Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.
  • Ahead of the forthcoming 2023-2024 Union budget, let us hope we won’t be saddled with a textbook loss-loss project.

Source: The Indian Express

Mains Question:

Q. What is the Ken-Betwa link? Briefly discuss the concerns about the project. (250 words).