Even as the Ken-Betwa river interlinking project awaits green clearances, an expert panel under the environment ministry has given the go-ahead to the Lower Orr dam in Madhya Pradesh.
The dam is a project undertaken by the state government, but would become an integral part of the Ken-Betwa project if and when it materializes.
The move is sure to anger environmentalists who have been demanding environmental appraisal of all projects associated with the Ken-Betwa project.
The proposed interlinking of the Ken river in Madhya Pradesh with the Betwa river in Uttar Pradesh is the first project in India’s ambitious plan to link its major rivers. The plan is aimed at transferring water from surplus areas to deficit areas and first took shape in 2002, under the National Democratic Alliance government at the time. The government had identified 30 links to tackle India’s water scarcity.
The Lower Orr dam is proposed across the Orr river, which is a tributary of the Betwa, near the village of Didauni on the border of the Shivpuri and Ashok Nagar districts in Madhya Pradesh. It is aimed at providing irrigation and domestic water supply to water-deficit areas of the Shivpuri and Datia districts of Madhya Pradesh.
The total land requirement for the project is 3,730ha; it is designed to irrigate 67,570ha in Shivpuri and Datia. It is also expected to provide drinking water to about 165,000 people.
The project was discussed by the environment ministry’s expert appraisal committee for river valley and hydroelectric projects during a 2 May meeting.
As per the minutes of the meeting, the project proponent made a detailed presentation and told the committee that Lower Orr is an independent project of the Madhya Pradesh government and not related to the Ken-Betwa link project.
As and when the Ken-Betwa link materializes, it will become an integral part of the project.
“After detailed deliberations, the EAC recommended the project for grant of environmental clearance as per the ToR (terms of reference) approved for Lower Orr project," said the minutes of the meeting.
The recommendation will need approval from the ministry, which rarely vetoes a decision by the expert panel.
The river interlinking plan was endorsed by the Supreme Court in February 2012 when a bench headed by then chief justice S.H. Kapadia ordered the centre to implement the interlinking of rivers in a time-bound manner.
The Ken-Betwa project has been controversial since it was first proposed. Environmentalists say it would have potentially disastrous ecological effects.
The project is expected to help irrigate about 600,000ha of land and provide drinking water to 1.34 million people in both Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. But it would submerge 58.03 sq. km (10.07%) of critical tiger habitats in the Panna Tiger Reserve and 50% loss to the habitat of a highly endangered vulture species.
“Lower Orr dam is not an independent project. If tomorrow Ken-Betwa project doesn’t come up or gets stuck in legal cases, Lower Orr project will not be feasible. So, EAC has cleared a project whose feasibility is still doubtful," said Himanshu Thakkar, an environmental activist working on water-related issues.