Akhil Bharatiya Samaj Sewa Sansthan

6 .Water, Rivers

Bundelkhand has a very rich tradition of constructing tanks in a highly skilled way. Examples can be seen in Mahoba and Charkhari and numerous other places. Unfortunately, many of these have been badly depleted or damaged due to encroachment and lack of maintenance. Many dam projects created in recent decades (such as Maro and Bardaha in Chitrakut district) have proved to be a failure. Today there is a real need for assessing priorities properly so that scarce funds can be used to the best advantage of people. All available evidence suggests that the first priority should be accorded to the proper maintenance and repair (including clearing encroachments) in the case of all existing tanks and related structures which can still be salvaged. This should be done with the involvement of local people as a people's movement. Similarly new sites should be selected for the construction of new tanks wherever possible. Maintenance of tanks used to be very much a part of the culture and traditions of these villages. An attempt to revive this should be made while at the same time making full use of the government's schemes and funds which can be utilised for this purpose. (See Annexure 1)

Many village ponds and tanks have the potential of fisheries. Care should be taken to prioritise the poorest, most left-out rural households to benefit from these instead of leaving these tanks to the highest bidders.

The concept of watershed development includes a multi-disciplinary approach in which repair and construction of tanks, construction of check dams, soil and water-conservation, and planting of trees are combined with social mobilisation of villagers, particularly weaker sections and women and micro-finance to promote balanced development in villages. Such an example can be seen in Tikariya panchayat area of Chitrakut district. This work is very conducive for the development of BU and should be promoted in a big way. (However at the time of prolonged droughts even the performance of these very well executed projects can be adversely affected.) (See Annexure 2)

Recently the government has made available a lot of funds for the Ken-Betwa river link scheme while the repair and maintenance of many invaluable tanks is neglected. This project involves two rivers, the Ken and the Betwa both of which arise in Madhya Pradesh. These then flow across several districts of this state as well as Uttar Pradesh to finally merge in Yamuna river at two different points. Several dams have already been built or are under construction on both of these rivers such as Matateela and Rajghat (on Betwa) and Gangau (on the Ken). Some of these have been controversial for various reasons such as high siltation rate, unjust displacement of people or sudden large-scale release of water causing destructive flash floods.

The Ken-Betwa project consists mainly of a new dam 73 metre high upper Gangau and a 250 km canal to link the two rivers, transferring water from Ken river to Betwa river. However people in the Ken river areas as well as some independent experts question the main assumption on which this project is based - the existence of surplus water in Ken.

The government says that displacement will be limited but people point out that already estimates of to - be displaced people are rising much above earlier estimates and all direct and indirect displacement due to dam and link-canal etc. should be added together to reach a realistic estimate. A part of Panna tiger reserve and a larger forest zone will also be submerged by this project.

Local people also argue that the problems relating to many previously constructed projects on these rivers should be tackled first. Gaya Prasad Gopal, a senior social activist of this area, was closely involved in the relief work for two massive floods caused by the sudden release of water from dams. He cannot forget the destruction caused by these floods. "We should first try to correct the existing system so that such tragedies are not repeated in future."

At a 'Water Parliament' of Bundelkhand region many speakers including social/environment activists and independent experts expressed concerns that this project can worsen the water scarcity in some areas and floods/waterlogging in other areas. A resolution passed at the end of this water assembly (held in Orchha, district Tikamgarh) said that lakhs of people in both Ken and Betwa river areas will be exposed to unprecedented tragic consequences as a result of this project. This resolution then called upon the Government of India to abandon this project.

It is tragic that massive funds are sanctioned all two readily for projects of dubious merit while smaller demands for highly useful repair and maintenance of tanks are neglected. Clearly there is a big need for correcting priorities, or else the cycle of floods and droughts may worsen.

Sudden release of massive quantities of water from dams has caused destructive flash floods in recent years in Chitrakut, Banda and Jalaun districts. Dam management and maintenance need to be improved to avoid such tragedies. Indiscriminate mining of sand on river beds has also led to increased threat of floods in many critical areas - such as the increased threat of Ken river floods to Banda town.

Severe water erosion is speeding up the formation of ravine in many areas. Even highly fertile area such as Konch (in Jalaun district) now face this threat. Prevention of ravine formation and reclamation of land where possible should get more attention.

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