NATIONAL

Wildlife panel clears first phase of Ken-Betwa project

Forest under threat:The Rs. 10,000 crore Ken-Betwa project will irrigate the drought-prone Bundelkhand region. Picture shows the Betwa river in Madhya Pradesh.— Photo: Monica Tiwari

Forest under threat:The Rs. 10,000 crore Ken-Betwa project will irrigate the drought-prone Bundelkhand region. Picture shows the Betwa river in Madhya Pradesh.— Photo: Monica Tiwari  

India’s first inter-State river interlinking project was given a go-ahead by the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) at a meeting chaired by Minister of State for Environment and Forests, Anil Madhav Dave on August 23, according to a report that was made public on Tuesday.

This would be the first time that a river project will be located within a tiger reserve.

The Rs. 10,000-crore Ken-Betwa project will irrigate the drought-prone Bundelkhand region but, in the process, also submerge about 10 per cent of the Panna Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh, feted as a model tiger-conservation reserve.

“I’m a staunch conservationist myself but life is a trade-off,” V.B. Mathur, a member of the NBWL and part of the wildlife clearance process, told The Hindu . “The project will bring water to one of India’s worst drought-affected regions and we’ve also insisted on an integrated wildlife management plan,” he said.

The main feature of the project is a 230-km long canal and a series of barrages and dams connecting the Ken and Betwa rivers that will irrigate 3.5 lakh hectares in Madhya Pradesh and 14,000 hectares of Uttar Pradesh, in Bundelkhand. The key projects are the Makodia and Dhaudhan dams, the latter expected to be 77 m high and responsible for submerging 5,803 hectares of tiger habitat in the Panna tiger reserve.

Villagers to be moved

Chhatarpur, Panna, Tikamgarh, Raisen, and Vidisha districts of Madhya Pradesh and Mahoba, Jhansi and Banda districts of Uttar Pradesh will benefit from assured irrigation supply, domestic and industrial water supply and power, said the project report of the Water Ministry. On the other hand, about 6,388 people in 10 villages will be affected due to the submergence by Daudhan reservoir and 13499 persons living in the 28 villages will be affected due to the submergence by Makodia reservoir and will have to be resettled. Seventeen lakh residents of nearby towns and villages in both States will benefit from improved drinking water and irrigation facilities, the report added.

According to the NBWL, 6,221 hectares — 4,141 of which is core forest and located inside the reserve — will be inundated when, and if, the proposed reservoir is filled to the brim. A key point of contention between wildlife experts associated with the impact assessment and dam proponents in the Water Resources Ministry was whether the height of the Daudhan dam could be reduced to limit the water overflow .

The Water Ministry had refused saying this would compromise the economic viability of the project and the records of the August meeting suggest the wildlife experts were convinced. The minutes of the meeting say Director WII (Mathur) “was convinced” that lowering the dam height by 10 m would reduce water storage by 32 per cent. “(The) effective submergence upstream of the dam is only for July end to October; the habitat and corridors across the river area (will be) available most of the time,” the minutes record.

The Ken Betwa project is divided into two phases and these clearances are only valid for the 1st phase. The wildlife clearance will pave the way for the forest clearance and environment clearance process.

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