Above: Ken River in Panna district (Photo by SANDRP)
In a series of letters that then collector of Panna district wrote when she was collector of this Bundelkhand district for close to three and a half years, she made startling conclusion that Ken river has no surplus water, if the basic water needs of people of Ken Basin residents are fulfilled. The documents that SANDRP has now received show that during her tenure as Panna collector between 2005 and 2008, she fought hard to stop the Ken Betwa project. She showed that if the Madhya Pradesh’s own water resources master plan of 1983 were to be implemented in Ken Basin, there would be no water left for export to Betwa basin. An exasperated IAS officer ultimately had to conclude that the Ken Betwa project “holds disastrous implications for the residents of Panna district as also other districts of the Ken river basin.”
Madhya Pradesh pushing Ken Basin to permanent disaster She felt so strongly about this issue that she continued to peruse this issue, even after being transferred from Panna. So in a letter to the Planning Commission Vice Chairperson in September 2010, she wrote, “On behalf of the residents of the (Panna) district, I implore you to kindly to go through the attached correspondence and consider giving the matter your personal attention.” Unfortunately, all her well reasoned pleas based on official documents, facts and figures fell on deaf years of the Madhya Pradesh and Union government. It is clear that by agreeing to the project the Madhya Pradesh government is pushing the whole of the Ken Basin of Madhya Pradesh to permanent disaster.
In fact, SANDRP had shown earlier in 2005[i], through an analysis of the Feasibility Report of the Ken Betwa Link Project prepared by NWDA[ii], that the whole exercise of showing that Ken has surplus water and Betwa has deficit, is an exercise in manipulation and that both basins were in similar situation. The correspondence now available from officials of Madhya Pradesh government vindicates SANDRP analysis.
Panna is waking up It is good that people of Panna district, including the Rajmata[iii] are now gearing up to oppose the Ken Betwa link project. What the former Panna Collector wrote in her official capacity shows how right people of Panna are in opposing the Ken Betwa Project and it is hoped that they will continue to oppose it with support from entire Ken Basin of Madhya Pradesh and downstream Banda district of Uttar Pradesh.
The then district magistrate of Panna district, wrote in her letter dated Oct 6 2007 to the then Principle Secretary (Dept of Water Resources, Govt of Madhya Pradesh), “As DM of the district Panna for over two and a half years now, I have realized that the most unfortunate thing that has happened in the district is that its abundant water resources have not been utilized for the benefit of the residents of the district to the extent that they ought to and could have… The irrigated area of Panna is only 5% of the total area of the district (from government sources) … In light of this, it is irony that the State Government is still going ahead with the implementation of the Ken Betwa project in contravention of the best interests of the farmers… Thus the only component of the Ken Betwa link project that could benefit the district of Panna has already been taken up for construction as a separate project by the State Government…”
Questening that Ken Basin has any surplus water, she wrote, “The KB project envisages taking away water from a “Water Surplus basin” (Ken) to a “Water deficit basin” (Betwa). I will not hesitate to say that the first line itself of the Feasibility Report prepared by the NWDA is faulty. To say that the Ken Basin is a “Water Surplus” basin is not only totally erroneous, it holds disastrous implications for the residents of Panna district as also other districts of the Ken river basin.”
“KBP has zero benefit for Panna district” The Panna collector goes on to explain why KBP is ZERO benefit for Panna: “The basin is supposedly water surplus only because there has been scant utilization of upstream/ midstream water- there are very few small dams and no medium/ large dams enroute. It is interesting to note that were these dams to be actually built, there would be no surplus water left at all! … As per the indicative master plan of the Ken Basin prepared by the State Irrigation Department, the total cultivable area of the Ken river basin is 14381 sq kms… The plan, made way back in the year 1983, has outlined detailed small, medium and major projects for the districts in the Ken river basin which, if actually constructed, will need more water than is actually available in the basin. Thus it is clear that not only is the Ken river basin not water suplus, it is in fact water deficient! … In a nutshell therefore, the K B project has zero benefit for Panna district…”
Panna collector asks for reconsideration of Ken Betwa Project She goes on to point out the fallacies of the KBP: “But in independent India, where all citizens are equal, taking water away to another place without first benefitting those in the immediate vicinity is unarguably illogical… I am alarmed to note that the NWDA which should formulate its reports on entirely scientific criteria, has failed to point out the fallacies in the proposed link project.”
Based on these facts and figures from official documents, she pleads with the Madhya Pradesh government to reconsider the Ken Betwa project: “In light of the injustice being sought to be meted out to the residents of Panna district and other districts in the Ken river basin by way of implementation of the Ken Betwa River Link Project, I request the State Government to reconsider implementation of the proposed Ken Betwa link project. I would be grateful if the irrigation needs of the people of Panna could be addressed first by implementing in entirely the master plan of the Ken basin prepared by the State Irrigation Department in the year 1983 in the event of which, I am sure there will be no surplus water left to carry to the Betwa basin.” Unfortunately, these reasoned plea of the state government official seems to have fallen on deaf ears.
This correspondence from the then collector of Panna illustrates that the notion that Ken is surplus is based on fallacy and that the Ken Betwa project is being pushed on the foundation of injustice to the people of Panna and the larger Ken river basin. These are the very issues one would have expected the NWDA in their water balance, the Environment Impact Assessment and the Expert Appraisal Committee of MoEF to look at, but they completely failed in this respect, even when a large number of people and groups including SANDRP repeatedly wrote to EAC.
Ken Basin to remain permanently backward? The hydrological basis of the Ken Betwa basin is not in public domain, nor has there been any credible independent review of it. All available evidence suggests that one of the reasons we see lot of water in Ken at Daudhan dam site is because Ken Basin in Madhya Pradesh area has not used the available water through local water systems. If the Ken Betwa project is allowed to come up, upstream area will remain permanently deprived of its right to use the water, as has happened in several instances in India. One hopes the people of Ken Basin in Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh wake up to this reality before it is too late. The former collector of Panna has provided them evidence, if they needed, as to why they need to oppose the Ken Betwa Project.