The controversial Ken-Betwa river linking project will require felling over 18 lakh trees and diversion of 6,017 hectares (ha) of forest land, according to documents sourced from the Ministry of Environment and Forests by Hindustan Times. The ministry is likely to give final approval to the project on May 16.
The river-linking project, if approved, would irrigate 6.35 lakh hectares of the drought- prone Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh and provide drinking water to the people of the region. The project has, however, been flagged for potential damage to the environment.
According to the Hindustan Times report, documents with the environment ministry say that at full reservoir level, 18,04,962 trees will be felled/affected in the project. Official sources told the paper that the tree species that would be affected are Tectona grandis, Terminalia arjuna, Diospyros melanoxulon, Madhuca indica, Accacia catechu, and others.
The project will also require diversion of 6,017 ha of forest land in Panna, Chhatarpur, and Tikamgarh districts to the National Water Development Agency. The project, in its entirety, will submerge 6,017 ha of forest land and 5,967 ha of non-forest land. This includes 10.07 percent (55.78 sq km) of critical tiger habitat (CTH) in Panna.
“The Ken Betwa project will impact the Panna biosphere reserve as a whole and its impact on the biosphere has not been evaluated as a whole,” wildlife activist Ajay Dubey told the paper. He said that the Panna Tiger reserve is part of the Panna biosphere, which has a rich biodiversity consisting of 1,255 plant species, 34 mammalian species, and more than 280 species of birds.
A senior wildlife official in Madhya Pradesh, however, told the paper that additional area will be added to the tiger reserve to make up for the losses as has been recommended by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA).
The 18,000-crore project will involve diversion of surplus Ken basin water to the Betwa basin. A 77-metre high dam is proposed across the Ken river, around 2.5 km upstream of the existing Gangau Weir.
The Expert Appraisal Committee and the standing committee of National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) had both cleared the project in December and August 2016 respectively. A final approval will, however, be given by the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) of the environment ministry in a meeting on May 16. The final commencement of the project may still face hurdles, as the matter is also pending before the central empowered committee of the Supreme Court.
The FAC too had earlier flagged concerns about the environmental impact of the project. However, the committee climbed down from its earlier position after water resources minister Uma Bharti wrote to her counterpart in the environment ministry in April.