India first river-interlinking project on Ken and Betwa rivers in Central India has received ‘in principle’ approval of the Environment ministry, almost a decade after the project was conceived.
The approval came after repeated requests of project proponent, Madhya Pradesh government, even though environment minister Jairam Ramesh and Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi had conceptually opposed inter-linking of rivers.
In the Rs 10,000 crore project water from river Ken in Uttar Pradesh will be diverted into river Betwa in Madhya Pradesh, requiring huge track of forestland from Panna Tiger Reserve. Environment groups have opposed the project saying that it will devastate local ecology, as large part of forest area in and around Panna will be submerged.
While acknowledging the environmental impact, the ministry recently approved the terms of reference, also called in principle approval, for doing preparatory work for constructing a dam on river Ken near village Daudhan and a 231 km long canal to transfer water in Barwa Sagar reservoir. Water from reservoir will be diverted into Betwa river.
The dam site is inside Panna Tiger Reserve, which now has relocated tigers after losing its native species in 2008.
The Environment Appraisal Committee (EAC), while approving terms of reference made it mandatory for the Madhya Pradesh government that it will have to seek approval of National Board for Wildlife before public hearing for acquiring land at the project site is conducted.
To protect the local flora, the committee has asked the MP government to conduct a floral survey of all plants and a study done regarding aquatic bio-diversity of Ken River.
“A proper plan for conjunctive water use may be prepared identifying the proportions of use of surface and groundwater,” the EAC said in its approval note for the project.
The project has been pending with EAC for close to four years as it refused approval to pre-construction activity because it was in Panna Tiger Reserve. After persistent appeals from the MP government, the committee agreed.
The idea was first mooted in early 1980s.
Under the plan the water from overflowing rivers was to be diverted to water deficient rivers through construction of dams and canals.
For the next 15 years, it remained an idea.
In mid 1990s, the NDA government got a study done to identify rivers for river water inter-linking.
Ken-Betwa rivers were identified for the first project, for which a feasibility study was done.
In 2005, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh government to divert 2,000 million cubic metre of water.
In 2006, the MP government sought environment clearance for the project
In 2007, EAC refused to give approval, citing proposed submergence of land in Panna Tiger Reserve in MP.
In December 2010, the in principle approval to the project given.
The project will take at least nine years to complete.