Ken-Betwa project: Panel gives nod to government's Plan-II

Bhopal:Standing committee of National Board of Wildlife (NBWL), which conducted a detailed study on impact of Ken-Betwa river interlinking project on Panna Tiger Reserve (PTR), is reportedly convinced with the Madhya Pradesh government's alternative action plan to compensate 4,141 hectares of tiger habitat facing submergence.

The project proposes to link Ken river in Madhya Pradesh with Betwa river of Uttar Pradesh to provide water in the drought prone Bundelkhand region and for irrigating about 6 lakh hectares of land. Sources said a six-member team of NBWL's standing committee had visited Panna from April 8 to 11 for a feasibility study.

Team comprised wildlife expert R Sukumar, NBWL member HS Singh and representatives from National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), Wildlife Institute of India, Madhya Pradesh government and Union water resources ministry. They have been asked to submit their report by April 30.

The environmental clearance of this project is largely dependent on the committee's report. "The committee is convinced with State Wildlife Advisory Board (SWAB) proposal, suggesting that 8,000 hectares of buffer area would be converted into a core area against 4,141 hectares of PTR land that will submerge in this project. Some of the villages will have to be relocated," said an officer, wishing anonymity. In February this year, Union minister Uma Bharti had taken up the issue of green clearances for Ken-Betwa River linking project with environment minister Prakash Javadekar. The project, considered as first effort of linking rivers from two different states, was expected to begin in January this year, but got delayed, pending environment clearances. The environment clearance is completely dependent on wildlife clearance due to the potential impact it will have on PTR. Former PTR director, R Srinivas Murty, had red flagged the river-linking project, claiming it would hurt the prized tiger habitat. He was transferred a few months later.

Brainchild of former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and dream project of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the project was also embroiled in controversy over its environment impact assessment (EIA), which mentioned presence of Sangai, an endangered brow-antlered deer, which is only found in Manipur, at the Ken basin. The Sangai sighting clause had triggered uproar with environmentalists who called the assessment report "a sham and a pack of lies".
The Rs 9,393-crore project involves 9,000 hectares, half of which is forest area. If the project is cleared, 7 per cent of the tiger reserve will be taken away.

The Ken-Betwa project involves transferring 591 million cubic metres of surplus water in Ken basin through 231.45-km canal to Betwa river. An estimated 6,000 hectares of land is needed for acquisition and the resettlement is estimated to cost Rs 333 crore.

Source: TIMES OF INDIA, 22 APRIL, 2016