The Madhya Pradesh wildlife advisory board on Tuesday gave its go ahead to the Ken Betwa river link project amidst dissent from non-official members, chiefly MK Ranjitsinh, Belinda Wright and Khageshwar Naik.
With this, the project which would impact the Panna tiger reserve, has cleared the first stage of wildlife approval and would now be put up before the national board for wildlife and finally the Supreme Court, whose consent is a must before it can be executed.
So adamant was the CM to approve the project, he did not accept a dissent note being placed among the minutes of the meeting by one of the non-official members.
Tuesday’s meeting of the board had been called to specifically discuss the approval to the project as the board during its previous meeting on August 11 had deferred a decision on it after members questioned the report on the project submitted by the national water development agency (NWDA)- the user agency in the project.
In the previous meeting, the CM, who is the chairman of the board had assured members that their objections would be taken into account but on Tuesday, the CM aggressively pushed the project through.
During the meeting, the NWDA sought clearance of the board for using 90 sq kms of tiger habitat including 41.41 sq kms from Panna tiger reserve, 16.62 sq kms non forest area from the reserve, 11.7 sq kms non forest area from buffer area and 20.80 sq kms forests from buffer area are sought for construction of a dam, 1.5 kms in length and 55 metres in height is proposed on the Ken river, a colony for the staff and submergence due to the dam. Earlier, a presentation was held by the NWDA for members of the board.
During the meeting, wildlife expert MK Ranjitsinh said that the project would be approved is a foregone conclusion. He circulated a 3 page letter written by him and wildlife protection society of India (WPSI) chairperson Belinda Wright raising issues with the project. In the letter, it was said that many facts pertaining to the project have been hidden from the board. If the CM decides to go ahead with the project, the letter be placed with the minutes of the meeting as a dissenting note. The CM did not agree to this but MK Ranjitsinh distributed the letter to all members.
A hydrological survey of water availability in Ken river be conducted by a reputed organization and information about Phase II of the project be divulged was also demanded in the letter.
Chief wildlife warden Ravi Shrivastava suggested that as part of the mitigation measures, the state government would transfer 80 sq kms of forests from the buffer area of the Panna tiger reserve to its core. Villages located in this area would also be shifted outside.
“Non official members of the board voiced their concerns about the impact of the project on wildlife,” said senior journalist Abhilash Khandekar who is a member of the board.
The dam would create 3.23 lakh hectares irrigation command area in Chhatarpur and Tikamgarh districts of MP and 2.52 lakh hectare area in Jhansi and Hamirpur districts of UP.