Ken-Betwa project, a threat to wildlife?

CHALLENGING PROJECT: Environmentalists say the river interlinking project will submerge at least 4,000 hectares of Panna tiger reserve, and vulture nests in the region will be threatened.  

An ambitious project to link Ken and Betwa rivers has become a stage for a unique man-animal conflict. Proponents of the project, led by the Union Water Ministry, say that the proposed Daudhan dam and the 2.5 km canal — the key structures of the project — that will transfer surplus water from the Uttar Pradesh section of the Ken to the Betwa in Madhya Pradesh are critical to irrigate nearly 7,00,000 hectares in drought-ravaged Bundelkhand.

However, environmentalists say that such a dam will submerge at least 4,000 hectares of Madhya Pradesh’s Panna tiger reserve, whose tigers were almost lost to poaching in 2009 and have only recently been partially replenished. They allege that most districts in Madhya Pradesh will not actually get the promised water. There are vultures in the region, whose nests will be threatened by the height of the dam.

Multi-pronged clearance

Since the project involves clearing forest land, affects endangered animals and involves relocating some farmers, it requires multi-pronged environmental clearance by the Ministry of Environment Forests and Climate Change. The National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) has constituted a committee of experts, which includes ecologists, hydrologists, representatives from the Water Ministry, and tiger conservationists to study the impact on wildlife. Their go-ahead is essential for the subsequent environmental impact assessment and forest clearance by the Madhya Pradesh government. These authorities have given an ‘in-principle’ clearance but funds for the project — Rs. 9,000 crore — won’t be cleared by the Union Cabinet unless all the clearances are in order.

Frustrated by the pace of clearance, Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti earlier this week threatened to “go on an agitation” if there were more hurdles to the wildlife clearance. “Farmers in Bundelkhand are clamouring for the project and want the water. We will take care of the wildlife but livelihoods can’t be held hostage,” said Ms. Bharti.

‘Express pace’

Raman Sukumar, ecologist at the Indian Institute of Science who chairs the NBWL’s committee assessing the project, disagreed. He told The Hindu that the project was being “processed at an express pace. We were only asked to do it in February and if there’s a tiger sanctuary involved it’s an exhaustive assessment.”

First project

The Minister’s impatience probably stems from the fact that Ken-Betwa was the first of the 30 interlinking projects envisaged by the present government and the 2004 Vajpayee government. While officials connected with the project say that each of them has a case-by-case merit, Ken-Betwa was unique in the range of challenges posed and a testing ground for other projects.

Officials in the Ministry told The Hindu that the project will in fact make green the denuded forests of the Panna reserve and create fresh water reservoirs and attract herbivores which would serve as prey for tigers. Moreover, only one tiger and her cubs roam the region of the reserve that will be inundated and it will not face obstacles in its territory.

The Bombay Natural History Society has been requested to help in settling the “handful” of vultures whose nesting habits are threatened, they say.

‘Specific to Vidisha’

However, Raghu Chundawat, wildlife biologist based in M.P., says that claims of partial submergence of the project area are incorrect. All the irrigation benefits are specific to only Vidisha district and not to Chatarpur and Tikamgarh districts as claimed. “These regions already have 80% irrigation potential,” Mr. Chundawat told The Hindu. On Friday, members of the wildlife board got a letter to “urgently” discuss clearances to the project and are likely to convene within a month.

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Printable version | Sep 29, 2021 3:53:42 AM |

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