The Madhya Pradesh government has sought clearance from the state wildlife advisory board to de-notify 90 square kms of prime tiger habitat that would be submerged due to the construction of a dam as part of the ambitious Ken Betwa river link project in the Panna tiger reserve.
The proposal will come up for discussion at a meeting of the board slated to be held on Tuesday. The board is chaired by the chief minister and is the apex body for granting clearances to projects which involve environmental impact in wildlife areas. The board has both official and non-official members.
The proposal is expected to generate intense heat at the meeting, as wildlife conservationists that constitute the bulk of non-official members are against the project on grounds that it would irreparably damage wildlife habitat.
Clearance from the state wildlife board is the first step for the project to move ahead. If cleared by the state board, it will have to be cleared by the national wildlife board and the empowered committee of the Supreme Court before being executed.
As per the proposal, 90 sq kms of tiger habitat -- including 41.41 sq kms from Panna tiger reserve, 16.62 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 the dam (1.5 kms in length and 55 metres in height) which is proposed on the Ken river, a colony for the staff and submergence due to the dam.
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. The dam would also create 56.23 sq kms and 49 sq kms of isolated habitat in Kishangarh and Chandranagar ranges of the park. The submergence area of the project lies within MP while the benefits will be shared between MP and UP.
A report submitted in August 2014 by a national tiger conservation authority (NTCA)-appointed committee of wildlife scientists and administrators to examine the issue said that submergence of the Gehrighaat area would irreparably damage tiger and vulture habitat.
Numerous objections to the project have been submitted by then field director, Panna tiger reserve, R Sriniwas Murthy as well. As per the objections, the environmental impact assessment report is incomplete and erroneous and eight years of construction work would have an adverse impact on a relatively small tiger habitat like Panna that risks being fragmented further because of the dam.
As part of the amelioration measures, a satellite core is proposed to be created from the existing Nauradehi and Rani Durgawati sanctuaries in MP and Mahavir Swami sanctuary in UP.
Environmentalists are concerned that the state government may try to push the project even in the face of opposition by wildlife conservationists. "The national board for wildlife has been pushing projects without examining them in detail. It would be very sad if the same trend is seen in MP," said a member of the state wildlife board on condition of anonymity.