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MoEF defers green clearance for Ken-Betwa river link

DNA, New Delhi, 16th September, 2015


The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government's controversial Ken-Betwa river link project is likely to face difficulties and delays as the environment ministry has deferred environment clearance for the project. An expert panel of the environment ministry appraising the project noted that the river-link will significantly affect the Panna Tiger Reserve and thus all aspects of the project will have to be studied more carefully.


The primary purpose of the river-link project is to irrigate 6.35 lakh hectares of land and divert water from Ken, Madhya Pradesh to Betwa in Uttar Pradesh. But, the project has a significant environment and wildlife impact as it passes right through the Panna Tiger Reserve, where tigers had vanished in 2009 and the reserve was re-populated with great effort. Contrary to the claims of National Water Development Agency (NWDA) which states that only 41.4 sq km of Panna will be submerged, independent conservationists peg the submergence area at 92 sq km.


After appraising the details of the project, the environment ministry's expert panel asked the Madhya Pradesh government for information and studies that they thought was not presented completely. The panel stressed that the project will impact the habitat of tigers, other wildlife and thus a study was needed on loss of habitat, migratory paths for wildlife, including birds. It has also asked for more details on the impact of animal distribution, especially on tigers.


Since the project falls within the Panna Reserve, the panel had asked the Madhya Pradesh status of the National Board for Wildlife clearance about the recommendations made by the National Tiger Conservation Authority.


A detailed wildlife conservation and management plant is also to be submitted to the panel. The panel also touched upon the critical issue of micro climatic change that the project is likely to bring about due to the submergence of 9,000 hectares of mixed, dry deciduous teak forest. It specifically asked the project proponents to clarify the impact on micro-climatic conditions.


As the project affects tigers, ghariyals and a thriving river ecology, it has faced stiff opposition and representations were also made to the expert panel. About seven representations were received from various non-profit organizations. The panel has asked the NWDA and Madhya Pradesh government to respond to these objections.


Meanwhile, as reported by dna in June, four sanctuaries are proposed to be added to Panna in lieu of the area submerged. The Uttar Pradesh government has agreed to include Ranipur and Mahavir Swami wildlife sanctuaries as satellite core of Panna while Madhya Pradesh has agreed to convert 60 sq.kms of buffer area of the tiger reserve into core area.