Nitin Sethi, Business Standard, May 26 2017
The environment ministry’s Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) has recommended the interlinking of the Ken and Betwa rivers in Madhya Pradesh.
The project had hit a snag because it will submerge 5,578 hectares of prime tiger roaming areas in the Panna National Park.
This leaves only two more steps for the project to secure the complete set of approvals required under environmental regulations and Supreme Court orders.
The Supreme Court’s Centrally Empowered Committee would have to give a nod to the project and then the environment minister would have to clear the recommendations to let the project go ahead.
Ministers have rarely ever overturned recommendations of the Forest Advisory Committee, which is staffed with some of the senior-most forest officials of the ministry in the first place.
The FAC is mandated to appraise projects that require forestland to operate on. The Ken-Betwa interlinking of rivers involved inundation and chopping of trees on 6,017 hectares of forests. Of this, 5,578 hectares fall in the core and buffer zone of the Panna National Park.
The project is one of the first on a long list that was envisioned under the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led government of the National Democratic Alliance. In this government, Uma Bharti, who is water resources minister and had been chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, has been a vocal advocate of the project.It has always found political support from the BJP leadership in the state and the Centre.
The river-interlinking plan was envisioned to transfer water from surplus areas to deficit areas. Under this particular project, the river Ken in Madhya Pradesh will be linked with the river Betwa in Uttar Pradesh. It is expected to cost more than Rs 10,000 crore and, the government authorities claim, shall provide irrigation for 600,000 hectares of land and drinking water to 1.34 million people.
The project had secured the wildlife and environmental clearances, with the forest clearance hanging fire. With the previous minister already having spoken in favour of the project even before it had got statutory clearances, it is believed that the final stamp of approval from the new incumbent is likely soon and the chance of a review being ordered does not exist.
Minutes of the latest meeting of the expert committee show that the members did away with their previous objections to the project. One of the key objections they had raised was of keeping the dam height 10 metres lower than proposed in order to provide some protection to remaining forests and ecology of the tiger reserve. But eventually the expert committee agreed with the project proponents that “since the height of the dam, related hydrology and objectives set out for the project are interrelated as also highly technical issues”, the dam height need not be reduced.