Water Crisis in Bundelkhand

Submitted by Hindi on Thu, 04/21/2016 - 10:46
A Report by ‘Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology’ for National Commission for Women, January, 2005, Page 73-78.

Water is the biggest problem in almost every district of Bundelkhand whether it is Banda or Lalitpur: Despite the largest number of dams in Bundelkhand, the queue for water before tap and hand pump is a common sight during summer.

In Bundelkhand women have no work but to collect drinking water on their heads from long distance. The grim situation of water may be best illustrated by one Bundelkhandi saying which roughly translated as “let the husband die but the earthen pot of water should not be broken”.

The scenario is worst in Patha in Chitrakut district where women have to travel a long distance to collect water for drinking. Half of the time of women is spent to collect water, which affects their health and the well being of their children. The paucity of time due to water crisis aggravates the domestic problem.

Patha Drinking Water Scheme was completed in 1973, which however failed to solve the problem, because 30% to 60% water does not reach to the people. Near Patha Jhalmal village, has always been in the news. There is only one hand pump, which is out of use. About 40 families in this village, which belong to ‘Kol’ tribal community drink water from the nallah. Worst crisis occur in summer when they use water after filtering. Likewise, in Sakroha village, there are only 3-hand pump out of 13, which are operating.

Instead of solving the water crisis, attempts are being made to create the disastrous situation in the region. Banda city entirely depends on Ken river. If Ken is linked with Betwa, then it will not affect only Banda, but would also jeopardize the survival of farmers who depends on Ken.

The livelihood of nearly 10,000 women who are growing vegetables on the bank of Ken river will be affected. Besides about 400 villages in Banda district will suffer because there will be no water in the river during summer.

Bundelkhand has sufficient rainfall, but the people have forgotten the conventional system of water conservation, causing the water crisis. For instance, the old tanks in the Tikam Garh are still operational providing water to the people.

In Bundlekhand organic and conventional agricultural is still alive, where agriculture is not considered a commercial activity like other places. Here one can find, Konda and Kutka, the nutritious rice. However the Government is promoting Genetically Modified (GM) crop, which needs more water and fertilizer.

In Bundelkhand, there are different kinds of lands available like Rakar, Padwa, Kabar and Mar. These kind of land has micro nutrients deficiency. Most of the people here depends on agriculture. Here main crops are wheat, gram, arhar, masur which have low productivity.

Best Practices in Bundelkhand

The name of conventional water structure in Bundelkhand are: -

Chandela tank
Bundela tank

Baoli/Bavadi : Traditional stepwells are called vav or vavadi in Gujarat, or baolis or bavadis in Rajasthan and Bundelkhand. Built by the nobility usually for strategic and philanthropical reasons, they were secular structures from which everyone could draw water. Most of them are defunct today.

The construction of stepwells date from four periods: Pre-Solanki period (8th to 11th century BC); Solanki period (11th to 12th century BC); Vaghela period (mid-13th to end-14th century BC); and the Sultanate period (mid-13th to end-15th century BC). Sculptures and inscriptions in stepwells demonstrate their importance to the traditional, social and cultural lives of people.

Stepwell locations often suggested the way in which they would be used. When a stepwell was located within or at the edge of a village, it was mainly used for utilitarian purposes and as a cool place for social gatherings. When stepwells were located outside the village, on trade routes, they were often frequented as resting places. Many important stepwells are located on the major military and trade routes from Patan in the north to the sea coast of Saurashtra. When stepwells were used exclusively for irrigation, a sluice was constructed at the rim to receive the lifted water and lead it to a trough or pond, from where it ran through a drainage system and was channelled into the fields.

A major reason for the breakdown of this traditional system is the pressure of centralisation and agricultural intensification.

Katas/Mundas/Bandhas: The katas, mundas and bandhas were the main irrigation sources in the ancient tribal kingdom of the Gonds (now in Orissa and Madhya Pradesh). Most of these katas were built by the village headmen known as gountias, who in turn, received the land from the Gond kings. Land here is classified into four groups on the basis of its topography: aat, (highland); mal (sloped land); berna (medium land); and bahal (low land). This classification helps to select.

A kata is constructed north to south, or east to west, of a village. A strong earthen embankment, curved at either end, is built across a drainage line to hold up an irregularly-shaped sheet of water. It commands a valley, the bottom of which is the bahal land and the sides are the mal terrace. As a rule, there is a cut high up on the slope near one end of the embankment from where water is led either by a small channel or tal, or from field to field along terraces, going lower down to the fields. In years of normal rainfall, irrigation was not needed because of moisture from percolation and, in that case, the surplus flow was passed into a nullah. In years of scanty rainfall, the centre of the tank was sometimes cut so that the lowest land could be irrigated.

Check dam: A check dam is a barrier built across the direction of the flow of water in a stream or nallah to store a part of the excess flow, which takes place during the monsoon. The advantage of these structures is that they store surface water for use both during and after the monsoon and add in ground water recharge of the area. The cost of the developing assured irrigation for one hectare of land with a check dam is generally very less than Rs. 15,000/-per hectare, while in case of large dams and canal is about 2 lakhs per hectare. The check dams may be categorised on the basis of the material used for their construction such as Earthen, Masonry and Reinforced cement concrete dams etc.

Sir Arthus Cotton, the founder of modern irrigation programmes during the British rule, acknowledged the strength of traditional irrigation works. He said “There are multitudes of old native works in various parts of India. These are noble works and show both boldness and engineering talent. They have stood for hundreds of years.”

The tanks of Bundelkhand region, impressed the Britishers also. The famous five tanks of Mahoba district (U.P.), inter-connected to each other, continued to provide a living testimony of ingenuity of their designers even in their state of neglected.

Talab/Bandhis: Talabs and Bandhis are reservoirs. They may be natural, such as the ponds (pokhariyan) at Tikamgarh in the Bundelkhand region. A reservoir area of less than five bighas is called a talai; a medium sized lake is called a bandhi or talab; bigger lakes are called sagar or samand. The pokhariyan serve irrigation and drinking purposes. When the water in these reserviors dries up the pond beds are cultivated with rice.

Chandela Tank: These tanks were constructed by stopping the flow of water in rivulets flowing between hills by erecting massive earthen embankments, having width of 60 metre or more. The earthen embankments were supported on both sides with walls of coarse stones, forming a series of stone steps. These tanks are made up of lime and mortar and this is the reason why these tanks survived even after thousand years but the only problem, which these tanks are facing, is siltation of tank beds. Chandela tanks usually had a convex curvature somewhere in the middle of the embankment; many older and smaller tanks were constructed near the human settlement or near the slopes of a cluster of hills. These tanks served to satisfy the drinking water needs of villagers and cattle.

Bundela Tank: These tanks are bigger in size as compared to Chandela tanks. These tanks had solidly constructed steps leading to water in the tank; These structures had chabootaras, pavillions and royal orchards designed to show off the glory of the king who built them. But these tanks are not as cost effective and simple as Chandela tanks. These tanks were constructed to meet the growing water demands in the area, maintenance of these tanks was done by the person employed by the king but in case of smaller tanks villagers collectively removed silt and repair embankment.

Ponds in Tikamgarh: According to the settlement records, there were 962 tanks constructed during the Chandela period. Most of which were small with low bunds. Several tanks were of considerable size, particularly those at Baldeogarh, Bamhauri Barana, Lidhoura, Jatara, and Bir Sagar. It is noticeable that none of these tanks with their massive dams, built by the Chandela and others were originally intended for irrigation. They were evidently constructed merely adjacent to temples, Palace and favourite resorts of the rulers. Their adaptation for irrigation is invariably a modern development.

The Ken-Betwa Link: The First Link In The River Linking Project:

In 2003, the Government announced a mega $ 200 billion (Rs. 560,000 Crores) diversion project called the River Linking Project. The core project involves the interlinking of Himalayan rivers and interlinking of rivers of Peninsular India. The project is being promoted for increasing irrigation potential and controlling floods by diverting water from rivers identified as “surplus” to rivers identified as “deficit”.

On 15th August 2003, in his independence day address from historic Red Fort the former Prime Minister Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee announced that the first link to be taken would be the Ken – Betwa link in Bundelkhand region of Madhya Pradesh & uttar Pradesh.

The idea of linking the rivers of India has its roots in the thoughts of Sir Arthur Cotton, the pioneer of canal system in India, Visveswarya, the stalwart engineer and architect of the modern Karnatka. The idea was further extended by K L Rao, the legendary irrigation minister of India and Captain Dastur, a pilot. Rao and Dastur thought of the Ganga-Cauvery Link Canal and the Garland Canals respectively. Rao’s ideas were based on his identification of some river basins in the country as surplus and some others are as deficit, and seeking solution to the problem of water scarcity in many parts of the country by connecting them through a National Water Grid (National Commission for Integrated Water Resource Development Plan). Dastur proposed an impressionistic scheme, which became known as Garland Canal Scheme to feed Himalayan waters to the peninsular parts of the country by means of pipelines. The NCIWRDP found this scheme prima facie impractical. Both the proposals were examined and were not found worthy of being followed up.

On the basis of the National Perspective on water resource development, the interlinking project has two components the Himalayan and the Peninsular. The Himalayan component includes construction of storage dams on the main tributaries of Ganga and Brahmaputra to transfer surplus water to the west. The Peninsular component involves connecting rivers like Godavari and Mahanadi that have surplus water with rivers like Krishna and Cauvery. 30 link canals are envisaged, of which 14 will be in the Himalayan Component and 16 in the peninsular component. On the whole, the inter linking project is aimed at aimed at providing large scale human induced connectivity for water flows in almost all parts of India. This indeed, is the largest construction project thought of in the world as of now.

The project is claimed to be the answer to the country’s problem of recurring floods and drought in different areas; the generation of hydroelectric power is also put forward as a justification. The need for hydroelectric power may lead to the formulation of particular projects in specific locations; it would not by itself take us to the idea of linking rivers.

Incidentally, the linking of rivers or inter-basin transfers would in generally of cases requires much energy normally in excess of what the project might generate but in this case we are told that the project will be net generator of large quantities of power: a figure of 30000 MW has been mentioned. That strains our credulity and will need careful examination with references to each link.

Similarly the problem of recurring floods in certain rivers or areas may lead (rightly or wrongly) to the formulation of specific projects with flood control as one of the objectives (or a primary objective)- for instance, the DVC projects, a high dam on the Kosi, and so on and will not by itself call for a linking of rivers. It must also be noted that opinion on flood control has changed over the years. It is now generally recognized that big dams play only a modest role in flood moderation. Even if all the river-linking proposals are implemented, the contribution that this will make to the mitigation of the flood problem will not be substantial. Dr. Bharat Singh, a doyen among engineers and the former Vice Chancellor of the Roorkee University, has observed “Any water resources engineer will immediately discard interlinking of rivers as a flood control measure”.

As regards drought, we have the answers already Rajendra Singh has shown in Alwar District in Rajasthan that rainwater harvesting can be practised successfully even in low-rainfall areas. Earlier, Anna Hazare had brought about a transformation through water harvesting (along with other measures) in Ralegan Siddhi (which is also a low-rainfall area). The Madhya Pradesh government has initiated large statewide programmes of water harvesting and conservation. The primary answer to drought has to be local. Besides, the river-linking project, if implemented will take water only to a small part of the target areas and drought prone areas; large parts of such areas will remain unserved.

The linking of river Ken with Betwa is proposed within the first phase of the Indian Government’s project of interlinking of rivers. The interlinking of rivers is estimated to have an expense of Rs. 560,000 crores. This is when the Government of India is already facing a fiscal deficit and has abandoned 400 major and medium projects costing Rs. 156,500 crores. Under Ken-Betwa river linking project, constructions of a dam with a height of 73 metres in River Ken in Bundelkhand on the border of Chhatarpur and Panna districts and 231 km long canal are envisaged of which the latter will connect Ken and Betwa. Seventy-five per cent of the estimate of Rs. 1988.74 crores, supposed to be expended under this project, will be extracted from the local peasants out of various taxes to be imposed for around 25 years. That is why the government is proposing such crops, which are water intensive leading to hike in water tax.

Ken River: Ken is an inter-State river flowing through the States of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Its place of origin lies in district Jabalpur in MP. The length of river Ken is 427 kms till it meets Yamuna. Of this, 292 kms are covered in MP while UP holds 84 kms of its flow. Ken flows the rest of its length covering 51 kms through the border between these two States. Ken river joins with Yamuna near Chilla village in UP. The river Ken flows through the districts of Jabalpur, Sagar, Damoha, Panna, Satna, Chhatarpur and Raisin of MP and Hamirpur and Banda of UP. The tributaries emptying in Ken are the following:

1. Alona
2. Virna
3. Sonar
4. Mirhassan
5. Shyamri
6. Banne
7. Kutari
8. Urmil
9. Kail
10. Chandraval

Betwa River: Betwa river originates from the district of Raisen in M.P has a total length of 590 kms, covering 232 kms in MP and 358 kms in UP. The river Betwa flows through the districts of Tikamgarh, Sagar, Damoha, Raisen, Bhopal, Guna, Shivpuri and Chhattarpur of MP and Hamirpur and Jalaon of UP. The major ones among its tributaries are:

1. Bina
2. Jamni
3. Ghasan
4. Birma
5. Kaliasot
6. Halali
7. Bah
8. Narayan, etc.

Horrific Devastation: Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology (RFSTE) has studied the possible negative fallout of Ken-Betwa interlinking. Which will lead to the following devastative impacts:

1. Negative impact on land, forests and biodiversity
2. Displacement due to construction of dams and canals
3. Impact on conventional / traditional agriculture
4. Escalation of flood and drought
5. Impact on fishermen and water bodies
6. Deterioration in mutual relationship between communities
7. Hurt on social, cultural and religious feelings

Impact on Forests and Biodiversity: Fifty sq. kms of land under Panna Tiger National Park will be submerged, once this interlinking project comes into effect. This national park through where the Ken flows is a natural homeland of aquatic fauna such as crocodiles and alligators. The Park has ten such species listed under Schedule - I of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 that are endangered. This interlinking and transfer of water will affect not only these animal species but also the vegetation, as lakhs of trees would be cut. Even after losing all these, the government of India is considering that this step will enhance the environment and increase the revenue for both the Central and State governments, Which apparently is not true. And thousands of workers have to reside, eat and drink there. Further causing detrimental impacts on the flora and fauna. The way of development is exemplified as in the case of district Lalitpur that has the largest number of dams in Asia, which should have been in the world map of wealth and resources today, only 20% land is irrigated.

Displacement: Government of India has proposed altogether five dams under this project of interlinking, one on Ken river and four on Betwa river, which would displace around 18 villages. All these five dams are coming in protected and reserved forest area. The four dams to come in Betwa river would submerge 800 hectares of forest.

Inter-State Dispute: While Government of India wants to transfer 1020 million cubic metres of water to Betwa, the Irrigation Departments of UP and MP are of the opinion that the Ken does not have that much of water. While 342 million cubic metre of water is available in Ken according to Chief Engineer, Betwa, 373.13 million cubic metres water is available in Betwa. That means that the Government’s aim of transferring water from the so-called surplus areas to water short areas cannot be realised. Moreover, as Ken does not have surplus water and as Betwa has enough water, the river belts of Ken and Betwa will respectively get affected by drought and flood. Today, there are around a dozen of disputes between the governments of UP and MP on the issue of water. One such dispute will come up among these, which would create differences between the farmers residing in the border areas.

It should be noted that Ken-Betwa link canal would go through places where means of traditional irrigation had already been available since as back as 500 years. Tikamgarh is going to be one such district that will get the facility of irrigation through this new system of canal when Tikamgarh is already coming within the most irrigated agricultural area in the whole of Bundelkhand, through the ponds constructed by the kings of Chandel and Bundel dynasties.

Effects on Traditional Agriculture: Study reveals that this interlinking is worthless and meaningless. When the whole world is trying to conserve water on the one hand, the Government of India on the other is not only promoting high-water intensive crops but also destroying the existing old system brought in to preserve water. A glowing example of this kind of experience can be found in the case of Lalitpur and Tikamgarh districts. Here, government promoted the cultivation of soybeans. After cultivating it for few years, farmers left it as they incurred heavy loss. Then, they returned to the conventional ways of farming. Farmers not only incurred financial losses, but they had to face drought after losing the traditional means of water conservation.

Evaluation of Flood and Drought: The study by RFSTE shows that even after escalating drought in 40 villages affecting 75,000 hectares of land in the district of Banda and flood in 200 villages causes devastation in four lakh hectares of land in Hamirpur district, the link canal will remain without water for four months during summer. Species of fishes in many ponds and lakes, known throughout India by the name of various ponds and lakes will be lost. The fishermen whose livelihood is dependent on these fisheries will face severe famines. The number of such people will be 5,000 in Chhattarpur and 15,000 in Tikamgarh.

Water Sovereignty: RFSTE has taken up these issues and organised a Water Parliament under the Campaign for Water Sovereignty on 23 July 2003 at Satar located in Orchha, Tikamgarh which falls on the birthday of Chandrashekhar Azad famous freedom fighter The place, located within the region of Satar, Orcha and Tikamgarh in MP, is purposefully selected because it was here that Azad took refuge to remain free from imprisonment. The Water Parliament was convened to disseminate the information among the people about the Government proposal to interlink Ken and Betwa. Govt., wants to obstruct their independent flow. The Water Parliament vehementaly opposed the interlink of Ken-Betwa river the proposed interlinking can offer the farmers of Bundelkhand only trouble and nothing else.

The people’s assessment of Ken-Betwa link raises and answers five basic questions

1. Is the Ken River “Surplus”?
2. Will the river link from Ken to Betwa contribute to increasing irrigation? Potential and food security?
3. Will the river link contribute to flood control?
4. What will be the impact of the river diversion on the ecology of Bundelkhand?
5. What will be the impact on potential conflicts between communities and States?

The assessment of the river link is negative for all five issues.
The project is based on diverting 1020 Mcum of water from the Ken river to the Betwa river, However, according to the government’s own reports, Ken has a balance of 342 Mcum after taking into account existing irrigation and demands. There is therefore, no surplus water in the river Ken.

The project claims to create 4 lakh hect, of irrigation potential. However, the diversion will lead to 6 districts being deprived of irrigation. Further, the project involves the destruction of diversity of crops by proposing of 77% paddy in place of 7.74%, hence government is planning to create 69.26% more paddy, which is a water intensive crop. 7.75% for Sugarcane, 17% for Jowar & Maize in place of 36.96% for Pulses is 24.71% less than existing system. Therefore, govt. is going to reduce the water conserving crops, which are nutritious, and the backbone of the poor people health. Similarly in the case of proposed cropping pattern Wheat 127%, 20.50% Gram in enroute command. Besides the existing cropping pattern in all three commands are 101.38% Wheat, 25.84% Gram (in enroute command). In existing cropping pattern there is no Soyabean and Sugarcane, on which the project focuses. Hence, the traditional crops diversity will be destroyed.

The project is not creating new irrigation potential. It is taking water from living river Ken that is home for hundreds of Crocodile & Gharial, to proposed but dead dams. This was proved by the govt.’s river linking plan that will take Ken water to proposed four dams in upper Betwa basin i.e. Neemkheda dam, Richhan dam, Barari Barrage and Kesari dam. The area irrigated by these four proposed projects is 1.02 lakh hact. If the Betwa water and these four dams had been sustainability managed these would not need to draw water from Ken 250 miles away. The non sustainable planning of the proposed dams in upper Betwa basin indicates that the diversion project itself could face a similar non-sustainable fate. The river linking merely reproduces and enlarges unsustainable water use.

The project cannot contribute to flood control since both Ken & Betwa originate from the same catchment region with the same rainfall & topography. When one river is in flood the other will also be in flood. The project will increase flood impact by blocking the natural drainage of the river basins.

The dam for the river diversion is being constructed in the heart of Panna National Park. This will uproot and displace 900 families, 8550 persons & 10 nos. villages. It will also threaten the wildlife in the National Park. The diversion of Ken water will create conflicts between people in Ken-Betwa basins in Bundelkhand and between the states of M.P. & U.P.

The Jal Swaraj Abhiyan of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology & Ecology / Navdanya organized participatory research to assess the impact of the Ken Betwa link on the ecology, economy and culture of Bundelkhand among organisation working on water conservation in the region. A “Jal Sansad ” (Water parliament) was also organized to involve the people of Bundelkhand in decision making about their water systems, rivers and natural resources.

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