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Dams and Canals in Bundelkhand

  The canal irrigation system built during British rule remains the major source of irrigation in Bundelkhand Plain, covering over 300,000 hectares

Construction of weirs and canals began in Bundelkhand in the late 1880s, as a famine relief measure.

In 1886, a weir was constructed across the Betwa and a 270-km long canal system was built from there to irrigate the Jalaun plain. To make up for water deficiency in the reservoir, a dam was built upstream at Dhukwan.

In 1900, a weir was constructed across the Ken at Bariarpur, in Panna district, and a canal was built along the right bank, taking advantage of a number of nallahs along its way. The canal crosses the rocky bed of Panna and Ajaigarh ranges before it enters the Banda plain, where it bifurcates into two branches.

In 1910, a dam was built across the Dhasan at Lachura, Jhansi, and the canal from it irrigates the Hamirpur plain; the Lachura reservoir was supplemented by a dam at Pahari across the same river.

These three investments created a surface irrigation system of around 6800 km of canals. They remain the major canal irrigation projects of the region, covering over 300,000 hectares.

After Independence, many dam projects were taken up in Jhansi and Lalitpur districts and other locations along the meeting points of Bundelkhand Upland and Bundelkhand Plain sub-regions.

In all, there are a combination of 7 dams, weirs and canal systems on the Ken, and 19 dams and canal systems on the Betwa; there are also 11 dams on tributaries of the Betwa. The highest number of dams in Bundelkhand are found in Lalitpur.

The first major project taken up after Independence was the multipurpose Matatila Dam across the Betwa, 23 km from Lalitpur town. With a  length of 6.30 km, height of 33.53 meters and lake area of 20.720 sq km, it is meant to generate 45 MW of power, provide drinking water to Jhansi, Jalaun, Hamirpur and Gwalior districts. Via the Bhander canal system, completed in 1964-1974, it irrigates parts of Datia district.

Other, smaller dams in Lalitpur district, named after the rivers they obstruct, include the Jamni Dam, Rohini Dam, Shahzad Dam, Sajnam Dam, and Govind Sagar Dam also constructed across the river Shahzad.

Most of the projects have been beset with construction delays. The Matatila project commenced in 1952 and its first phase of canal construction ended  in 1964; the second phase ended ten years later.

Many newer projects are along the UP-MP border and beset with inter-state disputes on distribution of water.  The foundation stone of  a 10-km long earthen dam Rajghat multipurpose, multi-state project, upstream of Matatila, across the Betwa on the border of Lalitpur district, UP, and Chanderi district, MP, was laid in 1973; construction started in 1978, and even 20 years later, canal construction in both states had not been completed.

The project is expected to lead to irrigation of around 225,000 hectares, in Lalitpur, Jhansi, Jalaun and Hamirpur districts of UP, and Guna, Shivpuri, Datia Tikamgarh, Gwalior and Bhind districts of MP.

Since 1983, there is a dispute between MP and UP on size of catchment area and distribution of water, and it appears unlikely that the project will meet its planned potential.

Likewise, the Orchha multipurpose project, proposed by MP in 1978, across the Betwa in Tikamgarh clashes with the Dhukawa hydel project proposed by UP across the same river and has been referred to a dispute settlement board.

Another dispute relates to an extension to the Ken canal system, to the left of Bariarpur. According to inter-state agreements of 1972 and 1977, MP built the extension but UP refuses to feed water into it, stating that there is inadequate water for the right bank canal built in 1900. UP will allow water flow only after it completes a dam project called Greater Gangau on the same river; while this project is taking its own time, the canal system built by MP is close to completion.

A multipurpose project proposed by MP near the same location, in Chhatarpur district, is also stuck due to a dispute on sharing water. At the site of the Urmil dam in the same district, which is expected to feed a drinking water scheme for Mahoba, in UP, clashes between authorities of both state in January 2008 led to filing of police complaints by both sides.

The most ambitious, and controversial of canal projects is the Ken-Betwa link project.

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