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MoEF ‘in principle’ nod to interlinking of rivers

January, 15, 2011,  The Asian Age, New Delhi

Barely one year after minister of forest and environment (MoEF) Jairam Ramesh and Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi had said that the idea of interlinking of rivers would prove a “disaster”, Mr Ramesh has gone ahead and given an “in principle” approval to the `10,000 crores project linking river Ken in Uttar Pradesh with river Betwa in Madhya Pradesh.

Apart from other ecological impacts of this interlinking, it will result in the construction of a dam located inside the densely forested Panna Tiger Reserve thereby submerging over 25 per cent of forested land in the reserve. “I was dumbfound by this approval especially since the MoEF has recently spent crores of rupees in relocating tigers to the Panna reserve considered to be one of India’s main tiger reserves,” pointed out Belinda Wright, executive director of Wildlife Protection Society of India.

“The only saving grace is that the Environment Appraisal Committee has made it mandatory that the proposal be placed before the National Board for Wildlife for approval and hopefully they will not grant it. But if it is okayed, this will send out a clear signal that the Indian government is not serious about saving the tiger,” Mr Wright said.

Obviously bowing to pressure from the Madha Pradesh government which has been pressing for this project for the last decade, the MoEF has given approval for the preparatory work to start which will involve the construction of a dam on river Ken near Daudhan and a the construction of a 231 km-long canal to transfer water to the Barwa Sagar reservoir which in turn will transfer water to the Betwa reservoir.

This will be the first of 37 river basins which the government wants to interlink in order to ensure uniform availability of water at a cost of `6,60,000 crores.Magasaysay awardee Rajendra Singh is also vehemently critical of this project insisting the interlinking will destroy the essential geographical character of the rivers.

“Each river has its own geo character, the terrain through which it flows and its flora and fauna are also different. By interlinking the river basins, everything will be destroyed,” Mr Singh said. Experts have also warned against the technical feasibility of these schemes citing that the construction of barrages and building thousands of kilometres of canals will make entire villages and town disappear apart from destroying millions of acres of forest and agricultural land.

A feasibility study of the inter-linking of the Ken-Betwa rivers has been completed and an MoU between the Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh state governments was signed in 2005 to divert 2,000 million cubic metre of land. One year later, the MP government demanded clearance for the project which the MoEF refused to grant.