North Koel irrigation project awaits wildlife clearance
New Delhi: Over four decades have passed since the North Koel irrigation project was first conceived, but it is yet to see the light of the day.
The project is not expected to start anytime soon as wildlife clearance from the environment ministry is still pending, even though the state governments of Jharkhand and Bihar have been pushing for it for the last one year.
The ministry’s expert wildlife panel recently discussed the project and sought a report on it from the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) before clearing it as it involves diversion of 1,007.29 hectares of forest land from the Palamau Tiger Reserve and it is estimated that 344,644 trees would be felled for the project.
The project was recently discussed in the 15 May meeting of the standing committee of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL), the apex wildlife body in India.
“The Committee decided that a committee comprising of member secretary, NTCA and member from WII (Wildlife Institute of India) would visit the project site and submit a report to the (Union environment) Ministry for further consideration within June 2017,” said the minutes of the meeting, which were reviewed by Mint.
First sanctioned in 1970, the North Koel project envisages a dam (Mandal Dam) on North Koel near Kutku village of Latehar district in Jharkhand, a barrage on the same river around 96 km downstream of the Mandal dam site and a system of distributaries originating from the two main canals. Through these canals, irrigation will be provided to 124,270 hectares in Bihar and Jharkhand—12,470 hectares in Palamu and Garhwa districts of Jharkhand and 111,800 hectares in Bihar.
Once completed, the project will generate 24 MW of electricity too. The project will also provided drinking water as well as water for industrial and agricultural purposes in both Jharkhand and Bihar. About 0.82 MAF (million acre feet) of water will be shared between the two states once the project is completed.
The initial cost of the project in 1970 was estimated at Rs30 crore but it was revised a few years ago and estimated to be around Rs1,289.50 crore. Of that, around Rs750 crore has already been spent.
Though stuck since decades, the project has got a renewed push from the state governments of Bihar and Jharkhand in the last one year. In August 2016, a meeting had also taken place led by principal secretary to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to fast track the project.
The project was discussed in the 25 April meeting of the environment ministry’s expert forest panel too. The expert panel, Forest Advisory Committee (FAC), had rejected the demand for waiving off the requirement of compensatory afforestation in lieu of diverting over 1,000 hectares of forest area from the Palamu Tiger Reserve.
FAC had noted that “compensatory afforestation may be done over twice the forest land diverted, provided the degraded forest land identified for this purpose should be in the corridors of the Palamu Tiger Reserve”.
“The State governments (Jharkhand), however, shall make best efforts to identify maximum possible encumbrance free, large patches of non-forest land either adjoining or in the immediate vicinity of the Palamu Tiger Reserve to offset habitat loss due to submergence,” said FAC, as per its minutes.