Ken Betwa project could hit wildlife: Report
A report by the Supreme Court-appointed Central Empowered Committee (CEC) has observed that the first phase of the Ken Betwa River linking project could threaten Panna Tiger Reserve’s status as a source area for tigers, or an area with high density of the big cats.
On last count, there were 526 tigers in Madhya Pradesh, highest in the country, and Panna Tiger Reserve in the state has around 30 tigers.
In a 93-page report dated August 30, CEC said a large block of 6,017 ha of forest land which is part of a national park and core critical tiger habitat of Panna Reserve will be diverted for the Ken-Betwa project and that it will result in the loss of a wildlife habitat of 10500 ha because of submergence of large tracts of forests and their fragmentation.
“The forest land involved in submergence is a unique ecosystem of morphological significance with unique and rich biodiversity in the region and which ecosystem cannot be recreated,” the report , accessed by HT, said.
The Ken Betwa project was conceived to be a multipurpose project by the central government in 2003. The project will provide irrigation and drinking water supply to the water-scarce Bundelkhand region of both Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.
But CEC found that the alternatives to achieve these objectives haven’t been explored by the Centre. For example, CEC highlights that water harvesting or conservation at the local level by providing drip irrigation or resorting to less water demanding crops such as millets or horticultural crops haven’t been explored.
“The cost of irrigation at present works out to Rs44,983 lakhs per ha. However the cost per ha of irrigation by adopting mini/micro water harvesting projects at local level will not only be substantially lower but will also save the forests and the habitat of wildlife including tiger,” the report notes.
CK Mishra, secretary, ministry of environment and forests, “I have not seen CEC’s report yet. Once I read it I will be able to comment.” CEC has sent the report to Mishra.
The proposal for wildlife clearance of the river linking project was first considered by the National Board for Wildlife on February 26, 2016, following which a committee headed by wildlife biologist R Sukumar visited the site and flagged a number of concerns.
Though the National Board for Wildlife gave its nod to the project, CEC observed that there was a divergence in the recommendations made by the committee.
Approval of the Wildlife Board for diversion of 6017 ha of wildlife habitat for implementation of the Ken Betwa link project phase I has not been proved to be necessary for “improvement of wildlife”, CEC said.
It has recommended to the top court that underling the “precautionary principle”, another detailed study be carried out to examine and report whether the mitigative measures proposed effectively offset the adverse impacts of the river linking project.
The CEC report is in response to a petition by environmentalist Manoj Misra, who says the Ken Betwa link project phase 1 should be considered only after independent and objective scientific studies.
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