Water Report

Why linking rivers will not save Bundelkhand

Retaining rainwater through ponds, check dams and farm embankments is what's needed in the drought-hit region.

Even as Bundelkhand shrivels under the onslaught of a prolonged drought, the government is going ahead with a grand scheme to link two major rivers at this southern edge of the Ganga basin. At a time when moisture has fled the land and the rain-fed rivers are down to a trickle, transporting water some 230-km in a canal, irrigating farmland on the way, appears to be a mirage to many.

“You first need water in order to transport it,” said Ranjit Kumar of Ghusiyari village in Bundelkhand. “Building such a long canal might be all right, but where is the water?” The farmer from Hamirpur district of Uttar Pradesh has a point. Seven years of deficient rainfall in an area the size of Texas has brought the land to its knees. The long drought has now raised the spectre of hunger and thirst for its largely agrarian population.

The government says by connecting the Ken river in eastern Bundelkhand to the Betwa river in the west, it will transfer surplus water of the Ken basin to the Betwa basin. This will irrigate an estimated 47,000 hectares of land and provide drinking water in remote villages of Chhatarpur and Tikamgarh districts of Madhya Pradesh and Hamirpur and Jhansi districts of Uttar Pradesh. The project, which will cost around Rs 10,000 crore ($1.5 billion) and take about nine years to build, is part of a national plan of linking India’s rivers that has been being pushed hard by successive governments despite many concerns.

However, Union water resources minister Uma Bharati claimed recently that there was no dispute over the river-linking project. Earlier in April, the minister, who is from Bundelkhand, said, “I am confident that the work on Ken-Betwa link will commence soon.”

Protests erupt

In the past few weeks, there have been media reports on millions of people going thirsty because environmentalists are supposedly holding up the project for the sake of a few tigers. The Ken-Betwa linking project entails building a dam in the core area of the Panna National Park, which is the breeding ground for tigers. Environmentalists have also spoken about the harm the project will cause to the Ken’s riparian ecosystem as well to local biodiversity, affecting several endangered and vulnerable species.

A canal being built to be part of the Ken-Betwa river linking project. Photo: Soumya Sarkar.
A canal being built to be part of the Ken-Betwa river linking project. Photo: Soumya Sarkar.

These admittedly serious concerns have however diverted attention from looking closely at the claimed usefulness of linking the two rivers. The huge amount of money to be spent on the proposed project could be better deployed to develop more localised water management solutions, many residents and experts say.

“Irrigation departments in our country are obsessed with building dams. They rely too much on canal-based irrigation. But in Bundelkhand, where soil types change every few hundred metres and the land is undulating, canals are not the ideal method to irrigate farms,” said Pushpendra Bhaiya, a social worker from Banda district in Uttar Pradesh associated with the Apna Talab Abhiyan (Own Your Pond Movement). “Instead, catching the rain where it falls will provide a more sustainable solution by recharging the land at a much lower cost.”

His views find an echo in Amar Nath, a community mobiliser who helps develop micro watersheds in Datia and Tikamgarh districts of Madhya Pradesh on behalf of the non-profit Development Alternatives. “The rivers of Bundelkhand already have too many dams on them. Capturing the run-off through field embankments and small check dams are a much more viable option at the village level. They are also much cheaper.”

There are 30 major dams and weirs in Bundelkhand and scores of smaller structures that together feed close to 7,000 km of canals, many of them defunct. Its three major canal irrigation systems were built in colonial times. The Betwa river alone has nine dams across it, with 11 more on its tributaries.

Dodgy data

The calculations of surplus water available in the Ken river basin might also be suspect as they are based on historical data that may not accurately reflect the current situation, according to an official of the Uttar Pradesh irrigation department. “Several years of below average rainfall during the monsoon season and accelerated withdrawal of groundwater in the recent past has significantly reduced the water discharge in the Ken,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “This is not reflected in the detailed project report.”

The Ken may no longer have the surplus that is proposed to be transferred to the Betwa basin. Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People said the surplus-deficit argument was from the beginning based on a questionable assumption.

Water rises in a well in the Datia district of Madhya Pradesh after the area was recharged by building tiny check dams. Photo: Soumya Sarkar.
Water rises in a well in the Datia district of Madhya Pradesh after the area was recharged by building tiny check dams. Photo: Soumya Sarkar.

The project developers have assumed that in the Ken basin, irrigating a hectare of farmland will need 5,327 cubic metres of water every year, while a hectare in the Betwa basin will need 6,157 cubic metres. The project report provides no reason for this significant 16% difference.

On top of that, 67.88% of the Betwa basin area is assumed to be cultivable, while the figure is 57.08% for the Ken basin. Again, no reason is given for this assumption. The rivers run more or less parallelly through the central Indian highlands in a northerly direction before joining the Yamuna.

Thakkar says the Betwa basin would not be water-deficit at all without the many dams, barrages and weirs built and planned in its upper reaches. He is worried that the link canal and its branches will submerge fertile land, while the project will also affect irrigation downstream in the Ken basin.

Environmentalists have also alleged irregularities in assessing the environmental impact of the project. And none of this takes climate change into account. In its latest assessment report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said one major impact will be higher uncertainty of water availability; there will be fewer rainy days but more intense rainfall on those days. All the forecasts raise doubts about the viability of the river-linking plan.

The government has approved the project despite the massive cost, its harmful effects on wildlife and biodiversity and the dodgy data that casts doubts on its viability. The irrigation departments of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh have signed an agreement to take the Ken-Betwa linking project forward. The central government has in recent months provided environmental clearances to build the new Doudhan dam in Panna Tiger Reserve.

Small remains beautiful

The water crisis in Bundelkhand has to be tackled by managing natural resources in an integrated manner, said Prem Singh of Barokhar Khurd village near Banda town, a farmer who grows organic crops and runs the non-profit Manveeya Shiksha Sansthan (Humanist Education Institute). Despite a long history of being drought-prone, the people of Bundelkhand have till recently lived in reasonable harmony with the land. The disregard of traditional wisdom in the decades after Independence is to be largely blamed for the present predicament, Singh said.

“Instead of the top-down approach of constructing big irrigation projects, communities at the village level have to be actively engaged in conserving water and using the land more efficiently to suit local conditions," he added. "A widespread participation of the people in managing water resources is the only way that Bundelkhand can be saved.”

This article first appeared in India Climate Dialogue.

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

The next Industrial Revolution is here – driven by the digitalization of manufacturing processes

Technologies such as Industry 4.0, IoT, robotics and Big Data analytics are transforming the manufacturing industry in a big way.

The manufacturing industry across the world is seeing major changes, driven by globalization and increasing consumer demand. As per a report by the World Economic Forum and Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd on the future of manufacturing, the ability to innovate at a quicker pace will be the major differentiating factor in the success of companies and countries.

This is substantiated by a PWC research which shows that across industries, the most innovative companies in the manufacturing sector grew 38% (2013 - 2016), about 11% year on year, while the least innovative manufacturers posted only a 10% growth over the same period.

Along with innovation in products, the transformation of manufacturing processes will also be essential for companies to remain competitive and maintain their profitability. This is where digital technologies can act as a potential game changer.

The digitalization of the manufacturing industry involves the integration of digital technologies in manufacturing processes across the value chain. Also referred to as Industry 4.0, digitalization is poised to reshape all aspects of the manufacturing industry and is being hailed as the next Industrial Revolution. Integral to Industry 4.0 is the ‘smart factory’, where devices are inter-connected, and processes are streamlined, thus ensuring greater productivity across the value chain, from design and development, to engineering and manufacturing and finally to service and logistics.

Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, artificial intelligence and Big Data analytics are some of the key technologies powering Industry 4.0. According to a report, Industry 4.0 will prompt manufacturers globally to invest $267 billion in technologies like IoT by 2020. Investments in digitalization can lead to excellent returns. Companies that have implemented digitalization solutions have almost halved their manufacturing cycle time through more efficient use of their production lines. With a single line now able to produce more than double the number of product variants as three lines in the conventional model, end to end digitalization has led to an almost 20% jump in productivity.

Digitalization and the Indian manufacturing industry

The Make in India program aims to increase the contribution of the manufacturing industry to the country’s GDP from 16% to 25% by 2022. India’s manufacturing sector could also potentially touch $1 trillion by 2025. However, to achieve these goals and for the industry to reach its potential, it must overcome the several internal and external obstacles that impede its growth. These include competition from other Asian countries, infrastructural deficiencies and lack of skilled manpower.

There is a common sentiment across big manufacturers that India lacks the eco-system for making sophisticated components. According to FICCI’s report on the readiness of Indian manufacturing to adopt advanced manufacturing trends, only 10% of companies have adopted new technologies for manufacturing, while 80% plan to adopt the same by 2020. This indicates a significant gap between the potential and the reality of India’s manufacturing industry.

The ‘Make in India’ vision of positioning India as a global manufacturing hub requires the industry to adopt innovative technologies. Digitalization can give the Indian industry an impetus to deliver products and services that match global standards, thereby getting access to global markets.

The policy, thus far, has received a favourable response as global tech giants have either set up or are in the process of setting up hi-tech manufacturing plants in India. Siemens, for instance, is helping companies in India gain a competitive advantage by integrating industry-specific software applications that optimise performance across the entire value chain.

The Digital Enterprise is Siemens’ solution portfolio for the digitalization of industries. It comprises of powerful software and future-proof automation solutions for industries and companies of all sizes. For the discrete industries, the Digital Enterprise Suite offers software and hardware solutions to seamlessly integrate and digitalize their entire value chain – including suppliers – from product design to service, all based on one data model. The result of this is a perfect digital copy of the value chain: the digital twin. This enables companies to perform simulation, testing, and optimization in a completely virtual environment.

The process industries benefit from Integrated Engineering to Integrated Operations by utilizing a continuous data model of the entire lifecycle of a plant that helps to increase flexibility and efficiency. Both offerings can be easily customized to meet the individual requirements of each sector and company, like specific simulation software for machines or entire plants.

Siemens has identified projects across industries and plans to upgrade these industries by connecting hardware, software and data. This seamless integration of state-of-the-art digital technologies to provide sustainable growth that benefits everyone is what Siemens calls ‘Ingenuity for Life’.

Case studies for technology-led changes

An example of the implementation of digitalization solutions from Siemens can be seen in the case of pharma major Cipla Ltd’s Kurkumbh factory.

Cipla needed a robust and flexible distributed control system to dispense and manage solvents for the manufacture of its APIs (active pharmaceutical ingredients used in many medicines). As part of the project, Siemens partnered with Cipla to install the DCS-SIMATIC PCS 7 control system and migrate from batch manufacturing to continuous manufacturing. By establishing the first ever flow Chemistry based API production system in India, Siemens has helped Cipla in significantly lowering floor space, time, wastage, energy and utility costs. This has also improved safety and product quality.

In yet another example, technology provided by Siemens helped a cement plant maximise its production capacity. Wonder Cement, a greenfield project set up by RK Marbles in Rajasthan, needed an automated system to improve productivity. Siemens’ solution called CEMAT used actual plant data to make precise predictions for quality parameters which were previously manually entered by operators. As a result, production efficiency was increased and operators were also freed up to work on other critical tasks. Additionally, emissions and energy consumption were lowered – a significant achievement for a typically energy intensive cement plant.

In the case of automobile major, Mahindra & Mahindra, Siemens’ involvement involved digitalizing the whole product development system. Siemens has partnered with the manufacturer to provide a holistic solution across the entire value chain, from design and planning to engineering and execution. This includes design and software solutions for Product Lifecycle Management, Siemens Technology for Powertrain (STP) and Integrated Automation. For Powertrain, the solutions include SINUMERIK, SINAMICS, SIMOTICS and SIMATIC controls and drives, besides CNC and PLC-controlled machines linked via the Profinet interface.

The above solutions helped the company puts its entire product lifecycle on a digital platform. This has led to multi-fold benefits – better time optimization, higher productivity, improved vehicle performance and quicker response to market requirements.

Siemens is using its global expertise to guide Indian industries through their digital transformation. With the right technologies in place, India can see a significant improvement in design and engineering, cutting product development time by as much as 30%. Besides, digital technologies driven by ‘Ingenuity for Life’ can help Indian manufacturers achieve energy efficiency and ensure variety and flexibility in their product offerings while maintaining quality.


The above examples of successful implementation of digitalization are just some of the examples of ‘Ingenuity for Life’ in action. To learn more about Siemens’ push to digitalize India’s manufacturing sector, see here.

This article was produced on behalf of Siemens by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff.