New Delhi: The proposed interlinking of Ken river in Madhya Pradesh to Betwa river in Uttar Pradesh to irrigate the vast arid and hilly region of Bundelkhand has become a textbook case of development versus ecology, with the environment ministry raising many objections.
Interlinking will help irrigate about 600,000 hectares of land and provide drinking water to 1.34 million people in both Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, according to ministry of water resources, river development and Ganga rejuvenation which is spearheading the ₹ 10,000-crore project.
But the ecological impact of the project may be disastrous.
The project would submerge 58.03 sq. km (10.07%) of critical tiger habitat (CTH) of the Panna Tiger Reserve and 50% loss to the existing unique habitat of highly endangered vulture species, inspector general of forest (wildlife) told the standing committee of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) in its meeting on 26 February.
Another 105.23 sq. km. of CTH will be lost due to land fragmentation and loss of connectivity. It will also displace 10 villages, the official said.
“NTCA (National Tiger Conservation Authority) informed that the proposal is being examined under Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 (amended) and it will take some time for finalizing the comments as the proposal involves alienation of large area of CTH," said the minutes of the meeting which was reviewed by Mint.
The minutes show that R. Sukumar, an expert member in the standing committee, expressed concern on the impact of the project, in view of its huge submergence, habitat loss and impact on Ghariyal sanctuary. The NBWL panel has now decided to form a panel “comprising R. Sukumar, H.S. Singh, a representative each from NTCA, WII (Wildlife Institute of India), (Madhya Pradesh) state government and user agency (water resources ministry) would conduct a site visit and submit the report in a month for further consideration".
To be sure, the centre had earlier planned to start the project, which would take nine years to complete, by the end of December but did not get green clearance.
Interestingly, it is not the first time that the project has run into rough weather. A panel of the environment ministry refused to clear the project until a landscape management plan is finalized and reviewed by independent experts, Mint had reported on 23 November.
Environmentalists, however, are strictly against the project.
“The entire project is located within the Panna Tiger Reserve reserve, directly submerging 89 sq. km Over 58 sq. km is in the core critical tiger habitat, which is deemed to be inviolate as per law. The impact area will be far greater with construction, staff colonies, power houses, blasting etc., which will disturb and impact over 200 sq. km of the tiger reserve, and all the wildlife within it. This includes over a dozen tigers, including breeding tigresses, nearly half of Panna’s population," said Prerna Singh Bindra, a former member of NBWL.
The ambitious plan to link India’s major rivers aimed at transferring water from surplus areas to deficit areas first took shape during the first National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in 2002. At that time, NDA identified 30 links— including the Ganga and the Brahmaputra—to tackle India’s water scarcity problem.
In February 2012, a Supreme Court bench headed by then chief justice S.H. Kapadia ordered the centre to implement interlinking of rivers in a timebound manner.
Apart from providing irrigation and drinking water facilities, the Ken-Betwa project envisages to generate 60 megawatts of power.