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Ken-Betwa link clears another major test

Centre’s ambitious Rs 10,000 crore Ken-Betwa river linking project is on its way to obtain environmental clearance, Water Resources Minister Uma Bharati and Secretary Amarjit Singh said on Tuesday. The Environment Ministry’s Expert Advisory Committee (EAC) on river valley and hydroelectric projects appraised the project on December 30, 2016.

Singh said that during the meeting between the committee and the project proponent National Water Development Agency (NWDA), most of the objections and doubts were clarified to the EAC.

Since linking river Ken’s water with Betwa river basin will fragment the forest in Panna Tiger Reserve, an LMP has to be prepared to manage dispersal of tigers and other wild animals into neighbouring forests.

“The committee raised concerns pertaining to the wildlife and asked us to justify the need for the project once again. Following wildlife clearance from the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) and our presentation to the EAC, we are expecting the clearance soon,” Singh said.

Along with the environmental clearance, the project is yet to receive the mandatory forest clearance as it will pass through 5,258 hectares of forest land including 4,141 ha of Panna Tiger Reserve.

The project received wildlife clearance from the NBWL in September 2016 after an expert committee visited the project site and recommended safeguards. As per the safeguards, an LMP has to be prepared and the project’s hydro power component has to be moved outside the Panna Tiger Reserve. Also, to compensate for loss of 4,141 hectares of forest from the tiger reserve, it has been recommended to integrate Nauradehi, Rani Durgavati and Ranipur wildlife sanctuaries in the Panna Tiger Reserve while areas of Chhatarpur and South Panna Division shall be notified as the buffer of the reserve due their historical tiger presence.

The river linking project, conceptualised under Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government, has faced stiff opposition from wildlife conservationists as the project will see 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 re-introduction programme has managed to take the tiger count back to 26. “Panna is not connected to a large wildlife corridor nearby and thus its forests are crucial for long-term survival of tigers, vultures, bears and its biodiversity. The submergence of forests will certainly hamper the wildlife and river linking itself will affect the natural flow of the Ken river,” said Anish Andheria, President, Wildlife Conservation Trust (WCT), a non-profit organisation working with 104 national parks and sanctuaries.