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MoEF panel clears Ken-Betwa river linking project

The Ken-Betwa river linking project, that will fragment the Panna Tiger Reserve, has been cleared by the Environment Ministry. The Ministry’s Expert Advisory Committee (EAC) on river valley and hydroelectric projects had convened a meeting on December 30 to appraise the project and its minutes show that it has recommended it for environmental clearance.

The committee has cleared the project with nine conditions. “Impact due to habitat change having effect like corridor and loss of migratory path for wildlife including birds and impact on the breeding ground of species should be recorded during pre-construction/ post-construction stages,” one of the conditions said.

Speaking to DNA about the project clearance, Union Minister for Water Resources Uma Bharti said, “I am quite happy that the first river linking project has received an environmental and tribal clearance formally. The project has already received wildlife clearance and now we are working out the funding pattern with NITI Aayog.”

The Rs10,000-crore Ken-Betwa river linking project aims to transfer water from the Ken river basin in Madhya Pradesh to the Betwa river basin in the parched Bundelkhand, Uttar Pradesh region. The project however, will submerge a total of 5,258 hectares of forest land of which 4,141 hectares is in the Panna Tiger Reserve which is home to more than 30 tigers, leopards, sloth bears, endangered vultures and a dense forest.

The EAC had earlier said that they would not appraise the project unless it was granted wildlife clearance by the National Board for Wildlife. The wildlife clearance was granted in August 2016 after environment experts visited the site and recommended certain actions to mitigate the adverse impact of river linking on wildlife.

The river linking project, conceived under Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government, has faced stiff opposition from wildlife conservationists as the project will see the construction of a dam in the core of Panna tiger reserve that lost all its tigers to poaching and natural deaths in 2009. A successful tiger reintroduction programme has managed to take the tiger count to 26 now.