NEW DELHI: Country’s first and NDA government’s ambitious Ken-Betwa river interlinking project has finally received approval from union environment ministry’s expert committee with conditions as the project is likely to submerge 10 percent of unique and critical tiger habitat area in Panna Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh.
The Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) recommended the project for forest clearance in its meeting held on May 16. The final decision will be taken by Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan.
“After careful consideration of the additional facts placed before it by the expert committee on the proposal of diversion of 6017 hectares for the development of Ken-Betwa Link Project, the FAC recommends the proposal as per specific observations/recommendations,” said the minutes of the meeting held on May 16.
The project costing Rs 10,000 crore has already missed its December 2015 commencement deadline. After work begins, it will take minimum 7 years for completion.
The ministry of water resources, which will be implementing the project, has been pushing for the project saying the project would ensure availability of water to drought-prone areas in the both the states of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.
Besides, the ministry said that it would provide annual irrigation to about 6 lakh hectares of land and drinking water facility to 13.42 lakh people in both the states.
Highlighting the impact of the project on the pristine natural habitat, the FAC has noted that it may not be possible to compensate the loss entirely because a large proportion of submergence area falls in a riverine habitat, which is unique and cannot be replicated elsewhere.
“Therefore, the project proponent shall ensure that similar extent of revenue area to be added to Panna Tiger Reserve, either as part of core or corridor with other habitats or satellite core areas and consider the entire landscape as one conservation unit allowing for development and livelihood needs and Panna landscape has to be managed as a single landscape in the interest of long-term conservation,” recommended the forest committee.
The project was initially mooted in the early 1980s and was actively taken by the NDA government under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee but then it was challenged in the Supreme Court. The apex court finally in 2013 asked the UPA government to start the process but it kept sitting on it and a Group of Ministers (GoM) on the river interlinking under Pranab Mukherjee did not even meet once.
The project was revived by the NDA government under Narendra Modi and Rs 100 crore was allotted in 2014 to expedite preparation of detailed project reports.