New Delhi: Started nearly 40 years ago to provide water to the Daltonganj and Palamu regions of Jharkhand which have faced 10 major famines since 1935, the North Koel irrigation project is still far from completion.

The project is now stuck at the Union environment ministry for want of a range of clearances – forest, environment and wildlife – before it gets the green signal.

The environment panel of the ministry of environment, forests and climate change (MoEFCC) has sought a no-objection certificate from the governments of Bihar and Jharkhand on sharing of waters of the North Koel river for the project.

The project will submerge 4253.68 hectares of Palamu tiger reserve’s core area; so, it would also require a nod from the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA). It will also submerge around 17 villages in the upstream of dam.

“The project proponent is yet to start the process for seeking forest and wildlife clearance from the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL). Considering all the required green clearances, it may have to wait for another year or so," said a senior environment ministry official, who did not wish to be named.

In September, environment minister Prakash Javadekar expressed concern about the pending project and assured that it would be expedited. Interestingly, Javadekar then accused Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar of not doing enough to harness river water.

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.

The dam was first conceived in 1972 and construction started in 1975. But it was stopped in 2007 on the ministry’s direction. Almost 90% of the components of the barrage and canals have been completed. The project cost is estimated to be around 1289.50 crore and of that, around 750 crore has already been spent.

The project was considered by the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) for River Valley and Hydroelectric Projects at its meeting on 23-24 September.

“The project proponent made a detailed presentation on North Koel Project located in Latehar District, Jharkhand. The dam construction was started around 40 years back to provide water for irrigation in the region which has faced 10 major famines in this century. The committee directed the project proponent to place before the committee … the extent of work already executed and the status of applications made by the project proponent to seek forest clearance and NOC from NTCA or any such body which regulates such wildlife sanctuaries," said the minutes of the meeting which were made public few days ago.

The EAC also said that the project proponent has to submit the NOC from concerned departments of the state governments of Bihar and Jharkhand on sharing the waters of the North Koel River for the project.

Once completed, the project will generate 24 MW of electricity too. The project will also bring drinking water to the people and water for industrial and agricultural purpose in both Jharkhand and Bihar. About 0.82 MAF (Million Acre Feet) of water will be shared between the two states once the entire project is completed.

-reporter

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