Union Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti on Tuesday threatened an agitation if there were further delays to the wildlife clearances necessary for the storied Ken-Betwa river-interlinking project.
Since December 2015, the Rs. 9,000-crore project —that is expected to irrigate 700,00 hectares in the drought-ravaged Bundelkhand — is being reviewed by a committee constituted by National Board for Wildlife (NBWL), a body of the Environment Ministry. As the project will submerge a portion of the Panna Tiger reserve in Madhya Pradesh, the committee’s approval is necessary for wildlife clearance, which, along with the environment- and forest clearances are required for the project’s progress.
In its latest assessment on May 10, the committee noted that there were threats to the nesting sites of vultures resident in the region and queried if the height of the dam could be lowered to protect them.
“I will not consider any reduction in the dam height…The project is getting unnecessarily delayed due to environmental activism,” said Ms. Bharti at a press conference. “The dam will be built and if there are further delays I will launch an agitation with the several thousand thirsty inhabitants of Bundelkhand and Marathwada.”
The Minister said the project was supported by the Environment Ministry too as she had already addressed concerns about threats to the vulture habitat. “We have asked the Bombay Natural History Society to help us with the vultures and the reforestation plan will actually help the tigers too…People however must come first,” she added.
The Ken-Betwa project is part of an ambitious initiative first mooted by the Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance in 2004, to connect 30 rivers across India and transfer surplus water from the rivers in the east to those in the west.
The Ken-Betwa project involves building the 288-metre Daudhan dam, and transferring of surplus water from the Ken river basin to the Betwa basin. This will submerge nearly 4,141 hectares, or about 7% of the Panna tiger reserve. The region is held as model of tiger conservation after its numbers fell from 35 in 2006 to zero in 2009, and rose again to at least 18 after seven years of conservation and anti-poaching measures.