Thirsty Bundelkhand braces up for economic makeover
While the UP government had already proposed the flagship projects of Bundelkhand Expressway and UP Defence Industrial Corridor for the composite development of the region, the recent signing of the Ken-Betwa Link Project between the central, UP and MP governments has added another important dimension to the ongoing process.
Lucknow / March 26, 2021
The thirsty Bundelkhand region in Uttar Pradesh (UP) is bracing up for its long-awaited makeover from an arid and socio-economically backward zone to an economic powerhouse in the times to come.
Bundelkhand spans the neighbouring states of UP and Madhya Pradesh (MP), the erstwhile constituents of the stigmatizing BIMARU (chronically backward) states.
The predominantly dry zone spanning about 70,000 sq km comprises 13 districts in all — seven from UP (Chitrakoot, Banda, Jhansi, Jalaun, Hamirpur, Mahoba and Lalitpur) and six from MP (Chhatarpur, Tikamgarh, Damoh, Sagar, Datia and Panna).
While the UP government had already proposed flagship projects of Bundelkhand Expressway (estimated cost Rs 15,000 crore) and UP Defence Industrial Corridor (spanning six districts, including Jhansi, with a total investment potential of Rs 50,000 crore) for the composite development of the region, the recent signing of the Ken-Betwa Link Project between the central, UP and MP governments has added another important dimension to the ongoing process. The two rivers are the tributaries of the Yamuna river.
The nearly Rs 30,000-crore river interlinking had been hanging fire for several decades and was among the dream projects of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
The mega project involves transferring surplus water from the Ken river in MP to the Betwa river in UP and irrigating 3.64 lakh hectares in the entire Bundelkhand region. It involves building a 77-metre-tall and a 2km-wide Dhaudhan dam and a 221km canal to irrigate the parched swathes in the two states.
Apart from regulatory delays on account of the project involving submergence of a large portion of the land apart from other severe environmental impacts, the delay in signing of the agreement was partly caused by the competitive claims by the two states on the quantum of water for their respective territory.
While the central government was earlier expected to fund a major portion of the project, the financial blueprint of the gargantuan project is yet to be made public.
Nonetheless, the agreement was signed on the occasion of World Water Day on March 22 during the virtual conference of UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath, his MP counterpart Shivraj Singh Chauhan and Union Jal Shakti minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In his message, Modi said the project would prove to be the fate line of the golden future of the entire Bundelkhand. “While better water management will be possible with this project,” he pointed out, “on the other hand, the availability of water will be ensured to the people of Bundelkhand.”
According to the Union Water Resources Ministry, the Daudhan dam will irrigate 6 lakh hectares in four districts of MP and 2.51 lakh hectares in four districts of UP (Jhansi, Mahoba, Lalitpur and Hamirpur). It will provide drinking water to 4.1 million and 2.1 million people in MP and UP respectively.
The water in the main reservoir and in smaller dams and the storage infra in the downstream 221km canal will be used for irrigation and other purposes during the non-monsoon period. For example, the districts of Banda and Jhansi will benefit from the pressurized pipe system and micro-irrigation system.
According to the UP government, the Ken-Betwa project will prove to be a golden chapter in the all-around development of Bundelkhand.
Since the Yogi Adityanath government is striving to double the rural incomes by diversifying agriculture from the staple cash crops of wheat, paddy and sugarcane, and promoting food processing, the river interlinking project is expected to usher in a total revolution in the farming sector in Bundelkhand, where land is aplenty but water scarcity is severe.
To promote industry spanning manufacturing, solar power, energy, food processing etc, in the Bundelkhand region, the UP government has promised a slew of sops, including capital investment subsidy, stamp duty exemptions etc.
Now, the troika of projects in the region, viz Bundelkhand Expressway, UP Defence Manufacturing Corridor and Ken-Betwa Link Project, will anchor a speedier socio-economic development by catalyzing growth in all the key elements of industry, infrastructure and agriculture.
Besides, this will arrest the mass migration of aspirational youth from Bundelkhand to other states in search of viable job opportunities, which will help the industry sector hire the local talents to save on their costs and provide a ready pool of employable workforce.
Meanwhile, nearly 50 per cent of the civil works have been completed on the Bundelkhand Expressway, which will traverse seven districts, viz Chitrakoot, Banda, Mahoba, Hamirpur, Jalaun, Auraiya and Etawah. It will connect Bundelkhand with the National Capital Region (NCR) via Agra-Lucknow Expressway and Yamuna Expressway.
This will cut immensely on travel time and boost the transportation of goods from Bundelkhand to the NCR and to other key markets, thus auguring well for the industry sector.
(The writer is a Lucknow-based journalist who writes on contemporary issues of industry, economy, agriculture, infrastructure, budget etc.)