Drying rivers of Madhya Pradesh: Rampant sand-mining, unabated deforestation sound death knell for Ken, Betwa rivers

Manish Chandra Mishra | Mar 6, 2019 | 5 min read


Dying Rivers of Madhya Pradesh: How Ken, Betwa are losing their lungs


Bundelkhand/Bhopal: Already under pressure from the river linking project, the lungs of two rivers of Madhya Pradesh – Ken and Betwa – are now about to get choked due to excessive sand mining.

"Sand is like the lungs of a river and just like us the river also cannot survive without its lungs. Small rivers like Ken and Betwa have been battling for life due to excessive and unscientific sand mining,” says conservationist Rajendra Singh, popularly known as the waterman of India.

Despite their smaller size, Ken (427 km) and Betwa (590 km) play an important role in the survival of many important cities and villages of water-deficient Bundelkhand region that is divided between Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.

Although almost all the small rivers of Madhya Pradesh are suffering from water deficiency and pollution, these two are suffering the most from sand mining and rapid deforestation.

From its origin to its end point at the Yamuna, these rivers have been exploited by the sand mafia of both the states.

According to the latest report of the Central Pollution Control Board, three rivers — Chambal, Khan and Shipra (Kshipra) — are the most polluted in the state and need to be cleaned on a priority basis.

From Mandideep to Vidisha, Betwa’s biological oxygen demand (BOD) was found to be varying between 3.3 mg/l and 20mg/l while anything above 8mg/l is considered as severely polluted.

Chambal’s BOD was recorded to be in between 12 mg/l and 12mg/l from Nagda to Rampura stretch.

Khan river that originates from Indore and drains into Khispra at Ujjain was found to be the most polluted river of Madhya Pradesh.

Khan’s BOD from Kabit Khedi to Kahjrana varied from 30.8 mg/l to 80mg/l.

Betwa river, which originates from near Bhopal, is a tributary of the Yamuna. It crosses through Jhansi, a prominent city in Bundelkhand and provides potable water, helps in irrigation and electricity generation in Bundelkhand. Industries situated near Mandideep and Raisen, industrial cities near Bhopal, pollute the river the most at the point of origin.

According to a research report, the water quality in the stretch of the Betwa river extending from its origin near Mandideep industrial area up to Bhojpur remains poor because of the regular inflow of domestic waste of Bhopal through Kaliyasot river and industrial/domestic waters from Mandideep.

The river enters Uttar Pradesh through Jhansi where the pollution level goes even more up due to other problems. According to research conducted by scientists Vaish Deepti, R.K. Singh and Avinash Bajpai, the water quality analysis indicates that nutrient loading takes place at the stations situated near farmlands. Higher values of nitrates and phosphates were recorded in the water near the agriculture fields.

Another study by Bundelkhand University scientists blames human activities, mining, urbanization and human encroachment for the water quality of Betwa river.

After the investigation, it has been concluded that Betwa is unpolluted upstream. The pollution in downstream comes from sewage disposal and agricultural run-off from the catchments areas and needs proper treatment before discharge.

Besides pollution, the lack of flow of the river is also a concern for Betwa. Last year, the river had dried up in February in Vidisha district.

According to a report by a local newspaper, the river dried near Ganesh Mandir in the city and one can now cross the river on foot.

There are two hydroelectric projects —Matatila Hydroelectric Project in Lalitpur Jhansi and Rajghat Hydroelectric Project, in Guna — on the river.

According to a report by MP Power Generation Company, the generation of power through hydro energy has fallen down rapidly to 1,485 MU in 2017-18 from 3,052 MU in 2006-07.

"The rivers of Madhya Pradesh are dying and some of them have already died. The natural water flow of some rivers have vanished due to sand mining, deforestation and encroachment in the catchment area,” says renowned activist Medha Patkar.

Slamming the various river linking projects, she says that the government is killing water-laden rivers by linking them with water-deficit

rivers. “At last, they would get nothing but lose rivers like the Narmada,” she warns.

Water conservationist Rajendra Singh is hopeful that the rivers can be revived even now if the government brings a dedicated mission for scientific sand mining.

“We are not against mining because it is a need for development purposes but there is a scientific way to excavate sand. Similarly, we need to work on the catchment area of the river to revive its natural flow. If we save the river it would be beneficial for the state in both the ways — economically and environmentally,” he said.

According to him, the Ken-Betwa river linking project will kill both the rivers.

The Ken originates near Ahirgawan on the north-west slopes of Kaimur Range in Jabalpur district and travels a distance of 427 km before merging with the Yamuna at Chilla village, near Fatehpur in Uttar Pradesh. Like Betwa, Ken is also under similar threats.

Ashish Sagar Dixit, an activist who has been working on various issues of Bundelkhand, says, "The river Ken is a lifeline for major cities of Bundelkhand and this project will ruin the environment as well as water of the river."

Dixit has been protesting against sand mining on the bank of Ken for several years. He says, "There are 11 nullahs dumping tons of polluted water daily in Ken in Banda city only. Apart from this, illegal mining is also destroying the ecology of the river."

He alleges that the sand mining mafias are so powerful that the forest department officials and administration have become their tool for excessive excavation of the sand.

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