Govt panel approves diversion of Palamu Tiger Reserve land for North Koel project
New Delhi: The clock is ticking for Jharkhand’s Palamu Tiger Reserve (PTR) as the Union environment ministry’s expert forest panel has given an “in-principle” approval for diversion of over 1,000 hectares of its core forest area for completion of the North Koel dam project that was first started in the 1970s.
The project, which requires diversion of 1,007.29 hectares, would also lead to felling of 344,644 trees.
The “in-principle” approval came during the latest meeting of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change’s (MoEFCC) Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) on 26 October whose minutes were reviewed by Mint.
As per the official records, wild boars, barking dears, golden jackals, elephants, bears and tigers (occasional visitors) are present in the Kutku range of PTR, an area that is close to the project site.
First sanctioned in 1970, the North Koel project envisages a dam (Mandal Dam) on North Koel river 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. The total irrigation potential of the projects is 111, 521 hectares of which 91,917 hectares is in Bihar and 19,604 hectares in Jharkhand.
Once completed, the project will generate 24 MW of electricity. The project will also provide 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 construction originally started in 1972 and continued till 1993 when it was stopped. The initial cost of the project in 1970 was estimated at Rs30 crore but its revised cost is Rs2,391.36 crore, of which Rs769.09 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, led by principal secretary to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was held to fast track the project.
Though FAC gave “in-principle” approval to the project, it stipulated a series of conditions like compensatory afforestation over 2015 hectares (nearly double the area of diverted forest land) and planting of at least 1,000 plants per hectare.
In addition to the compensatory afforestation in lieu of forest land being diverted, the FAC noted that loss of 344, 644 trees should be compensated with plantation of the same number of trees in the PTR’s landscape in accordance with a scientific landscape management plan. The panel said that such plantation should be outside the tiger reserve.
It also observed that the project could result in wild animals like elephants and tigers shifting their routes that can lead to human-wildlife conflict. The FAC asked that villages near the tiger reserve area be relocated to avoid such conflicts.
To compensate for loss of tiger reserve area, the panel further said that after completion of the project, the adjoining wasteland should be transferred to PTR and its management should be integrated with the tiger habitat. It also called for strengthening of wildlife corridors connecting PTR with other forest areas.
The area covered by wildlife sanctuaries and tiger reserve in Jharkhand is only 2.7% of its geographical area against the national average of 4.9%, even though it is a forest-rich state.